Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 27, 2009

Visiting the doctor in Fonty: an example of how less is always more

Today I accompanied a friend to a local doctor’s office so she could have a medical problem diagnosed. She thought my French language skills (or lack thereof, in my opinion) might come in handy when speaking with the doctor, who we weren’t sure spoke a lick of English. We had heard some horror stories about visiting French doctors from some of our pregnant friends—how they don’t wear surgical gloves, how, before drawing blood, they wipe your arm down with a swab but then use their bare hands (full of germs) to find a vein, how you are not given a gown to wear but simply change out of your clothes in front of the doctor and then sit in your birthday suit on the examination table while the doctor examines you, and on and on—-so, suffice it to say, my friend was quite nervous on the ride to the office.

Once we arrived, we walked into a narrow corridor with chairs along one wall and closed doors along the other. We found the doctor’s name that my friend was going to see on one of the doors and, not knowing what else to do, we knocked. He (yes the actual doctor) answered (like we were visiting his house or something for tea) and said that he spoke a little English (thank goodness because my French is not that good) so my friend went in. As the door was closing though, I (ever curious) peeked in and saw that his “office” was just that—an office, with just a large desk, books on a bookshelf, his big office chair on one side of the desk, and a chair for patients on the other. It seemed so weird—like going to the doctor was just like visiting your accountant. 

When my friend came out of the office (still intact, thank goodness!) with a prescription in hand, I had so many questions I didn’t know where to begin. Here’s her summary of the appointment:

She said that in the beginning they sat at the doctor’s desk to talk about her symptoms, then he opened a door to the adjoining room where there was a small bathroom/changing room and an examination table. He instructed her to change out of her clothes in the bathroom, and while she was changing, he was getting his instruments in order in the examination room. Then he performed his examination (sans surgical gloves apparently…eek!), she changed back into her clothes, and then she met him back in his office where he wrote her a prescription to fill at any local pharmacy, and then he gave her a bill. She then paid him (yes, she paid the doctor directly, not an office manager, nurse, or a billing associate…just him. Can you believe it!?!), he gave her a receipt, and she was off to fill her prescription and be cured.

After hearing her story, I couldn’t believe how efficient and personal the French medical system is. I wondered why in the US we have so many crazy medical precautions, but more importantly, why we need so many people in doctor’s offices. Seriously, on my last doctor’s visit in the States, I had to deal with five different people: the receptionist who made my appointment (In France, the doctors make their own appointments. There are no receptionists.), the office manager who took my insurance card when I arrived at the office (Notice, I didn’t mention anything about insurance here in France? Because you don’t have to show your insurance card to have an appointment! What a novel concept! You just pay the doctor between 20-50 euros per office visit, and then send the bill to your insurance company for reimbursement), the physician’s assistant who took my blood pressure, my temperature, and weighed me (Now, why do they need to do all of that? If I have a rash on my leg, what’s the use of taking my blood pressure and weighing me? The French don’t do that. They get right to the problem and focus on that.), then, after waiting an obscene amount of time, I saw the ACTUAL doctor (Who has no bedside manner, and therefore, the examination took approximately 2.2 seconds), and then when I left, I saw another receptionist to “check out” (not so sure what the purpose of that is either).

Maybe a solution to the health insurance crisis in the US is not that our medical bills are raised because of the huge expense of malpractice insurance that doctors have to pay, but instead, the sheer number of unnecessary people who work in the office! I know this is probably simplifying the issue too much, but really, are all those people necessary?

I think, in this one area, I have to give it to the French. Although their bureaucracy is horrendous (note my previous posts), they know how to keep things simple, more friendly, and more affordable when it comes to healthcare. Maybe we can learn something from them.


  1. Every time I sit down to read your blog, I feel as if I am taking a mini trip to France! I don’t know anything about the social systems in France… I do hope, however, that the experiences you both have there will lead you both back to your original aspirations…law. I would venture to say that the reason why the health system seemed so efficient and simple is that perhaps there aren’t as many frivolous law suits churning the system as there are in the States.

  2. Maybe, if you both decided to pursue law in the States, you could effect change here similar to your experience in France ‘sans’ any hint of Socialism that may impinge on the state-of-the-art medical treatment currently touted.

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