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Emergency Care: Hospitals in France
At a Glance:
- The French social security system will contribute to any fee incurred by your hospital stay, but you may still have to pay some of the charges — particularly if you are in a private clinic.
- Dialing the European Emergency number 112 or the French SAMU number 15 will put you through to ambulance services.
- You cannot be denied emergency care if you are not insured, although you will be expected to shoulder all the costs.
No one ever wants to use hospital or emergency facilities, but if the worst should happen, it’s important to know how to get help. The good news is that if you are covered by the French social security system, you will not have to worry about call-out fees or paying for treatment, as France’s hybrid insurance scheme will usually cover most of the costs.
To find out how to get medical insurance coverage in France, read our article about the French healthcare system.
Headed to Hospital: What to Do If You Are Seriously Ill
There are over 2,600 hospitals in France, so there is probably one not too far away if anything should go wrong. Follow the signs to your closest CHR (centre hospitalier régional — regional hospital), CHS (centre hospitalier spécialisé — specialist hospital), CHU (centre hospitalier universitaire — university hospital), or clinique privée (private clinic): any of these facilities should be able to treat you. It is worth noting, however, that not all hospitals and clinics have emergency facilities, so it is important to check what your local hospital can and does treat before you set off in a crisis.
There are two types of hospital in France: private and public hospitals. Patients with social security can be admitted to both, and the state will reimburse the costs incurred at the official rate. However, private clinics are allowed to set their own fees, which may be higher (or lower) than the official price. This means that you could be left with a bigger bill once the state has paid its share, so it is important to check their prices before you check in.
If you stay in a public hospital while you are in France, the cost of treatment should be covered by the French social security system. However, costs incurred by your “bed and board” will not be covered, and private insurance is needed to top up state provisions (e.g. a single room for your stay). Some senior physicians or surgeons at public hospitals can also set their own rates, similar to private clinics in general, and the difference in costs is usually not covered by a public healthcare policy.
After being admitted to hospital you will need to show your carte Vitale (French health insurance card), a European Health Insurance Card, or some proof of insurance. If you are entirely uninsured, you cannot be denied healthcare in France, but you will be expected to pay for it entirely yourself.
Even if you are insured, there may be some cases where you have to contribute to your treatment when you receive it. If this happens, you will be given a feuille de soins (a document containing information on the medical costs incurred), meaning you can be reimbursed for any care you have paid for by your healthcare provider later on.
Don’t Speak the Language? Pas de Problème!
If you do not speak French but are living in the capital, you are in luck. There are several hospitals in Paris with bilingual doctors and medical staff. Institutions such as the American Hospital of Paris are linked to the US government and follow US American medical practices. However, such institutions are frequently privately run, so they can be more expensive than public hospitals. It is therefore important to get an estimate and check with your insurer before you choose this option.
Outside of the capital, bilingual hospitals may be harder to find, and it cannot be guaranteed that your doctor will speak English. In this case, it is advisable to bring a French-speaking friend with you or to learn some basic phrases related to your illness prior to your visit.
Call in Case of Emergency
In an emergency, it is important to know which number you need to call for assistance. Dialing the European Emergency number 112 will put you through to an emergency line, where you can request medical assistance alongside police or fire services. There will probably be an English speaker in the call center, so this might be the best place to ring if you are not confident with your French.
Dialing the number 15 will put you through to SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente), the organization designed to deal specifically with medical emergencies. For other emergency services in France, calling 17 will put you through to the police and 18 will give you the fire brigade.
Staff answering SAMU phones frequently have medical training or are even doctors themselves, so they can offer proper advice in a crisis. There is no national ambulance service in France, but SAMU operators can arrange for a private ambulance to pick you up if required. The costs for this service will be covered by the social security system. However, it is worth noting that if an ambulance taxi is used, you may have to pay up front and be reimbursed later.
Your Local Hôpital
There are a lot of hospitals in France, and extensive lists and rankings of these institutions are published online. The political weekly paper Le Point publishes a league table of the best public and private hospitals in France every year, with the comprehensive list covering most facilities across the country. It’s best to work out where your closest hospital is when you first arrive in France, so you will have no trouble locating it in an emergency.
Here are some of the major public hospitals in France's cities.
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