According to French law, a hospital must treat you in an emergency situation and cannot refuse you, even for inability to pay. It is not necessary to call in advance or have the recommendation of a physician for emergency treatment; you can just walk in. If you have the time and a phone, it is recommended to call ahead to make sure that the hospital can handle your emergency. This is why it is often better to call the emergency services, such as an ambulance, as they will contact whichever hospitals are in the area to determine which one is best equipped to deal with your particular emergency. If calling an ambulance or the hospital is not an option, know that public hospitals – but not all private hospitals or clinics – are equipped with emergency rooms.
If you are a member of the French social security system, then you are entitled to free care at any public hospital or clinic within the European zone. You should present your identification (passport and/or carte de sejour) as well as your ‘carte vitale’ or ‘European Health Insurance Card’.
If you do not have an ID card or your health insurance card with you, you will still be admitted, however a friend or relative should bring your personal documents to Hospital Admissions. Administrative formalities are inevitable but they are reduced to the minimum: you or a relative should head to the admissions office to complete your file as soon as possible.
Most public hospitals have a staff member who speaks English (albeit not always fluently), but if you are admitted to a French public hospital for an emergency, you can rest assured that you will receive quality care, even if you do not understand every word. The staff will try to communicate with you and if your consent is needed for any procedures, they will make every effort to make sure that you understand the procedures. Do not be surprised if they provide you with waiver forms. They are mere formalities, not admissions of wrongdoing or incompetence.
For scheduled procedures such as operations or tests, your primary physician and/or specialist will make the appropriate arrangements. In this case in addition to the documents listed above, you will also present the reports and/or prescriptions of your physician during the admissions process. If in doubt as to what to bring, ask your primary physician.
With respect to payment for your operation or tests, as a general rule, you will have completed an admission file containing your address and contact information. Normally a bill will be sent to your address (if the procedure is not covered by your insurance.). You will then have ample time to either mail the payment or go directly to the Cashier’s Office at the hospital. Most hospitals accept credit cards and personal checks. Be sure to keep all of your receipts and hospital admission and check-out documents. Those documents may need to be provided to your Health Insurance company for additional reimbursement, or to your employer for proof of your absence.
For English-language hospitals, see the ‘Best Facilities’ section.