Long waiting times for medical appointments in Italy
The Italian healthcare system is financed primarily by taxes and is intended to provide every Italian with free basic health care. At the local level, all the administration is done through the regional health authority, the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL). Under the state healthcare system, family doctors (GPs) have either concluded a cooperation agreement with the ASL or are directly employed by it. The technical and medical equipment in most GP surgeries is fairly basic. For many examinations in Italy, patients have to be referred to a specialist.
Specialists either work in particular hospitals or can be found in large medical centres. However, patients often have to wait several months for an appointment. In order to get around the waiting times, many Italians go straight to the A&E (accident and emergency) department of their local hospital. But in doing so they are only shifting the problem to the hospitals, because due to the many non-emergency patients, long waiting times can be expected here too.
N.B. The Italian state health system is not completely free of charge for patients. Many services require an additional payment – often called a ‘ticket’ – which is determined at the regional level. Prescription fees are also common.
Seeing a doctor in Italy if you don’t have overseas health insurance
Some health insurance companies allow travellers to receive free treatment from GPs (General Practitioners) in Italy. However, the additional payments are the same as for Italian patients. Tourists can go directly to a GP’s surgery. A list of GPs can be found through the local ASL. If necessary, the state GP will then refer the patient to a specialist.
Regions and cities that regularly welcome a large number of tourists sometimes have separate medical practices for patients from abroad. In these special doctor's surgeries, it is more likely that doctors and other medical staff will be able to speak English.
Of course, there are also private medical practices in Italy, which are available to tourists as well as locals. In order to avoid the often long waiting times for state doctors, making an appointment with a private doctor may well be worthwhile. However, this approach can be expensive, because the costs are generally not covered by health insurance companies in the patient’s home country.
Seeing a doctor in Italy if you have overseas health insurance
Visitors who have adequate international health insurance do not normally have to worry about the cost of medical treatment in Italy. Almost all medical costs are likely to be reimbursed under a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes adequate health insurance cover – including charges for treatment in private medical practices. However, this usually only applies to newly arising medical conditions. The treatment of pre-existing medical conditions, which may potentially worsen in Italy, is usually excluded by the policies.
Other services or benefits may also be excluded under the terms of the insurance policy, so it is important to check your policy carefully. For example, some insurance companies will only take over the costs of a medical repatriation from Italy if it is ‘medically necessary’. Other policies will come into effect in ‘medically reasonable’ cases.