Parisian Living

SOS Medecins: French House Calls 24/7

by Yvonne Hazelton Shao

The last thing you probably want to see during a winter commute in a crowded Parisian metro is someone coughing without covering their mouth. Germs. If you’re like me, the person doesn’t even have to be ill, and you’ll be sick the next day, barely able to crawl out of bed. Luckily, in Paris, you don’t have to get out of bed to see the doctor! Yvonne recounts her experience with the French healthcare system, and how house calls still happily exist in Paris, below. In the meantime, we hope you all stay healthy. -HiP Paris

Americans haven’t had house calls since the days of Little House on the Prairie. However, back when I was watching the TV show, I did not have a full appreciation of Doc Baker and his little black bag.

On the left: On a sunny day, a glowing green cross suspended from the first floor of a Paris apartment building signals to passerby that there is a pharmacy next to the café below. On the right: a friendly male doctor wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a stethoscope holds a clipboard, ready to welcome his patient.
Top: Andreas Selter Above: Flight Log / Raw Pixel

When I lived in the suburbs of California, my family always seemed to get sick or injured on the weekends. I was forever jumping into the minivan and dragging a wheezing, bleeding, semi-conscious child (or myself) to Urgent Care, where we waited on plastic chairs with all the other contagious people. Then we waited in a freezing exam room until a sorta-doctor came in and prescribed antibiotics or stitched the kid back together or whatever. And it usually put us back between $80-$300, depending on how severe the problem was.

I’m not knocking the American system—OK, maybe a little—but France has another way.

On the left: A blonde-haired woman, dressed in a classic black outfit, walks down a cobbled sweet in Paris, past a pharmacy and mural of pink flamingos. On the right: A man crosses the street in the Latin Quarter of Paris, the dome of the Pantheon visible in the background.
Darshan Gajara / Robin Benzrihem

It’s no secret that France has a top-notch healthcare system. But one of the wonderful, lesser-known features:  house calls 24/7, 365 days a year. Yes, a doctor will come to your house within the hour. Here’s how this miracle happened for me.

One recent Tuesday, I felt that little tickle in my throat. By Thursday, my head felt too large and my eyes were bulging. I felt awful. On Friday, I went to the pharmacy. (That’s the French way—first stop is always the pharmacist.) She listened to me say vague French things (which I had Google-translated while waiting in line) like congestion des sinus and douleur and mal de tête. She gave me nose spray. I was pretty sure I needed something stronger. She insisted I should try the nose spray first. Fine.

On a bright, sunny day, a fountain trickles in a Parisian square as the apartment buildings are bathed in sunlight.
Sophie Augustin

On Saturday, I felt worse. But my Protestant Work Ethic said just keep moving, you’re not sick so I did the grocery shopping and laundry and cleaned the cat box, since my teenage son (the cat owner) was out of town for a volleyball tournament. 

On Sunday morning, I woke up with a swollen face. I could look down and see my own cheekbones. Swallowing caused a tidal wave in my head. Tea and a hot shower were no help. My doctor didn’t have any appointments until the following Thursday, by which time I knew I would be dead. I decided to die, slowly and painfully, in my own bed.

On the left: The sun illuminates the Jardin des Tuileries as people mill around the central fountain by the Louvre. On the left: A doctor gently applies pressure to a patient's hand to perform an evaluation.
Marissa Wu / Raw Pixel

Then I remembered SOS Médecins. I’ve seen their little white cars tootling all over Paris, and I had a friend who had used them. I didn’t know if I deserved a house call or not, since I could still technically walk, but I decided to call France’s bluff. 

I went to their website, where I learned I could call or fill out the online form. I don’t like making phone calls in French even when I’m healthy (though they allegedly do speak English), so I filled out the form, complete with a drop-down menu of 100 symptoms and hit Enter. Right away, I got an email saying stay home, we’re working on it. Right, I thought, we’ll see if anybody actually shows.

A cyclist rides across an empty street in Paris as the sun peeks from behind a classic Haussmann apartment building.
Andreas Selter

Thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang. It was a doctor.

He was a perky, unassuming, middle-aged man with a black backpack, dressed in the usual French-casual clothes: striped t-shirt, black jeans, and jacket. I would have spruced up a bit if I thought anybody was actually coming, but he’d caught me by surprise, so I was in my pajamas, with bed hair and morning breath, while he gave me the exam. He had all the tools of the trade in his backpack: stethoscope, laptop, paperwork, etc.

He pronounced sinusitis, wrote me out a prescription, and scanned my health card with a little gizmo from his backpack . He apologized profusely that I would have to pay $70 for the visit (ooh la la, this price for anything medical in the US is a steal), but assured me that I would be reimbursed through the French health care system (if you’re not in the French system, you’d simply be stuck paying the $70, but from an American’s point of view, that’s still a deal). He swiped my credit card with the same gizmo, shook my hand, wished me a good day, and was off. The whole visit took less than 15 minutes.

The sun sets by the metro stop Lamarck-Caulaincourt, in the hilly neighbourhood of Montmartre. The lights of the café across the street cast a warm glow as the last bit of light from the sun fades.
John Towner

I did still need that medicine. I really didn’t feel like going out, but it was a beautiful fall day, so I brushed my teeth and hair, put on lipstick, dark sunglasses, and a trench, and popped down to the pharmacy. They filled the prescription. It cost $10, which would also be refunded by social security. I came home and went to bed. 

France, you seduced me with your wine and your cheese, your museums and concerts and architecture. 

Now, you’ve stolen my heart with your health care.

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Written by Yvonne Shao for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.

Written By

Yvonne Hazelton Shao

Yvonne Shao is an American writer living in Paris. She blogs at Escaping the Empty Nest. View Yvonne Hazelton Shao's Website

9 comments on “SOS Medecins: French House Calls 24/7

Wow, I had no idea. I spend 3 months at a time in Provence and
Paris. I have thought about what to do in emergency, now I know!
Vive La France

You gotta love it! 🙂 It’s really quite the service. I was there recently and was so sick I did not want to go anywhere, especially a doctor’s waiting room with lots of sick people. I called, the guy came within an hour, gave me some meds. Charged like 75€ and was on his way. Incredible! -Erica

Elizabeth Schaffer

Do you have to be enrolled in the French system to receive this service? I’ll be renting in Paris for 2 months in the spring. Thanks for your wonderful blog!

You do not! Anyone can receive it 🙂 And aww, thanks for your kind words.

I’m so sorry about your illness, but glad you had a good experience with the French health care system. Come back –you get a do-over!

I appreciated your article! I live in the Midwest and we do have the service you write about. Doctors and nurse practitioners that make house calls. Perhaps, you should visit and write about medicine in Minnesota??!

Sounds like we should! Lucky you for having such great services in Minnesota!! 🙂

I was in Paris during x-mass time and in the night of new year’s eve I got sick. The next day – the 1th of january – I called for a doctor. I was a bit scared because I thought I had severe food poisoning and I was in paris on my own.
But in a few hours I got a visit from a doctor and that was the best doctor’s consult I had in years: professional, comforting, all in perfect English. I had to pay 100 euro ( on the phone they said it would be 150 euro but he only asked 100) . Happily it was only a flew (but a severe one) and I Had to spent the rest of my stay in Paris in bed. So I hope I can go back to Paris soon to catch up for those lost days.
I agree with you: the health system in paris was very good, It was a very re-insuring experience.

So glad you had such a great experience! 🙂

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