The idea of going to a doctor in a foreign country – or even finding one – can be daunting. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Bologna is known for its sound health care, whether it is a simple visita in ambulatorio or a more serious trip to the pronto soccorso. However, attitudes towards health care and ideas about the origins of illness change from culture to culture; so don’t be surprised if you hear the Bolognese attribute your ailment to the cambio di stagione or a colpo d’aria. What may seem like old wives’ tales often coexist harmoniously with Italy’s modern medical system.
The question most people find themselves asking is whether they should use the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) or choose to pay a private doctor outside of the system. This debate can be simplified to a question of time versus money. If you can take the time to stand in line at your assigned physician, the no-frills public system offers competent, very low-cost care. There can be a charge for visits with specialists or for pharmaceutical based on your income. The income declaration form can be obtained from your local pharmacy. Your medico di base, also known as medico di famiglia, will write prescriptions, order tests or refer you to specialists within the system. He or she will even make house calls when necessary. There is no charge for his or her services.
Private health care in Bologna is quick and reliable, but can be costly without a private health insurance policy. Many people elect a hybrid solution, that is, they enroll in the SSN, but choose private care for certain treatments. Keep in mind that if you require emergency care you will be treated immediately at no cost, regardless of your residency status or enrollment in the national system.
una visita in ambulatorio = visit to the doctor’s office
il pronto soccorso = emergency room
il cambio di stagione = change in the season
un colpo d’aria = a cold draft
il Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) = national health care system
il medico di base = il medico di famiglia = general practitioner/family doctor