Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sick in Europe? Don't Go to the ER!

I ran across this informative letter sent to Rick Steves about what to do if you fall ill in Europe:
Sick in Europe? Avoid the ER!

Fritz Hutmacher, who manages a hotel and B&B in Switzerland, has good advice for what to do (and not do) if you need medical attention during your vacation. Although he writes about Switzerland, his advice is generally true no matter where you may find yourself — not doing so well — in Europe.

Dear Rick,
As an hotelier I am all too familiar with the situation in which a guest feels the need to consult a doctor. In spite of advice to the contrary, we have observed that these travelers would far rather go straight to a hospital's Accident and Emergency department than simply consult a local doctor. Later, the somewhat shocked hotel guest shows me the bill; and I am not surprised to see that treatment for granddad's common cold or the child's diarrhea has cost 300-500 Swiss Francs ($250-$450). Generally, they have wasted two to six hours hanging around in A&E (what you call the ER) waiting for the lab results and diagnosis, their wait further extended by genuine emergencies, and the financial pain magnified by the unnecessary use of an expensive service.

If you find yourself in Switzerland anywhere near an average-sized town, there will be a GP and/or a pharmacy with a 24-hour out-of-hours service. The details are published in the local newspaper. If you need medical attention, ask your host to look up the details, or phone telephone directory enquiries on 1818.

GPs are very familiar with tourists' medical problems, and I never cease to be amazed at how quickly they will see a patient. ("Can you be at my surgery in half an hour?"). Patients are examined expertly and speedily, with an immediate diagnosis and very often the necessary medication on the spot, or a prescription for the pharmacy. If the patient needs to go into hospital, the doctor will make the arrangements. The cost of consulting a GP is generally in the range of 60 to 100 Francs ($50-$85) plus the medication. Since I took on management of the Hotel Lötschberg and Susi's B&B, not a single person has complained about an expensive doctor's bill.

Check List
1. What do you need? Do you need a doctor, or will it be sufficient to speak to a pharmacist? In Europe, pharmacists can often dispense "prescription" drugs (and excellent advice) directly, without a doctor's order. When going into a pharmacy, it is important you ask to speak to the pharmacist (German: 'Apotheker'), and not simply a shop assistant.

2. If you need a doctor, ask your hotel's receptionist for the "duty emergency doctor's" phone number (German: 'Notfallarzt'), or phone 1818 and ask for the phone number of the duty emergency doctor. Better still, ask the receptionist to make the call for you and arrange for an appointment. Ask the receptionist to write down the doctor's name, address and telephone number. The taxi driver will then have an easy job to get you there.

3. If you are already taking prescription drugs, take them with you, together with some cash or a credit card. On the way back to the hotel, ask the taxi driver if the pharmacy is en route and could make a stop there.

4. If you do not speak the language, take somebody with you who could interpret (usually not necessary in Western Europe, where doctors speak English). Important: leave the rest of your family in the hotel or apartment; they will just get in the way and slow things down!

5. Collect and save all bills and receipts for later submission to your health insurance back home.
There are many very different types of health insurance arrangements and health care phone numbers throughout Europe. The best way to find out about arrangements in places you are visiting is to ask at your hotel's reception desk. Always make sure you are speaking with a 'local' person, and not a visiting foreign apprentice or trainee.

Follow this advice, and you'll save valuable time and money during your European holiday!
Have a happy holiday,
Fritz HutmacherHotel Lötschberg & Susi's B&B Interlaken, Switzerland

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you roused yourself from your new "Best Friend/Worst Enemy" for your blog this week, Daniel. I assume spring is proceding apace in Maine - it cooled off a bit here but is back on the way to 100+. Am heading for Chicago in the (very early) AM where the high will be about 50 - and probably rain. BTW, I take back my bad-mouthed comment about cheap travel these days. I just found out that the hotel where we are staying for just under $200 a night usually runs $350. I guess it's posh! Hope all is well w/you. Irene