Reader question: How long is the wait for medical procedures in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 9 Dec, 2022 Updated Fri 9 Dec 2022 15:21 CEST
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There is no long wait for medical treatment in Switzerland. Photo: Anna Shvets pn Pexels

If you come from a country where a long wait for non-urgent surgeries is the norm, you will probably find Switzerland to be better organised and more efficient in this respect.

If you have been living in Switzerland, or about to move here, you know that Swiss healthcare system is fundamentally different from that of its European neighbours.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system, which means everyone in the country is covered by insurance and has access to medical care.

In most countries, the government typically has control, to a lesser or greater extent, over funding, health insurance, and health providers.

Not so in Switzerland.

It is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — by purchasing it from one of dozens of private carriers.

Health premiums are not cheap, and are set to increase by 6.6 on average in 2023. But Switzerland’s private system, though expensive, does have advantages over government schemes that are common in much of Europe.

One of the benefits is a relatively short wait time for procedures.

READ MORE:  How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

So how long do you have to wait for medical treatment in Switzerland?

It is important to distinguish between vital emergencies and non-urgent care.

In the former case — that is, serious or life-threatening illnesses or accidents — help is immediate in Switzerland as well as in all of Europe, especially if you are transported to the hospital in an ambulance.

The difference in wait times kicks in with non-urgent cases like outpatient or elective surgeries, procedures that are usually planned in advance, or specialist appointments. This is where Switzerland beats many other countries.

According to a survey by the Organisation  for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) on how long patients in various countries typically wait for an appointment with a specialist, the share of people in Switzerland waiting a month or more is 23 percent, compared to 36 percent in France, 52 percent in Sweden, and 61 percent in Norway.

OECD statistics also show that Switzerland has among the shortest waits for medical tests and procedures.

What does this mean?

The exact wait time depends on several factors.

An important one is where you live. If you reside in a small community or a rural area with few doctors and hospitals, you may wait longer than your urban counterparts.

If, on the other hand, you live in or near a large city with well-developed and dense health infrastructure (in terms of hospitals, doctors, and specialised care), your wait will be shorter.

In either case, it is rare for residents of Switzerland to have to wait many weeks to be seen by a doctor or to schedule a surgery, except in exceptional situations.

For instance, if you have a rare medical condition for which there aren’t many specialists in Switzerland (it is, after all, a very small country), then you may get an appointment weeks or months in the future. But such cases are rare.

All in all, “the Swiss healthcare system is the best in Europe in terms of access to medical services," according to a Swiss physician, Dr Kathrin Zimmermann. “This means very short time spans between a medical condition being identified and treatment starting."

She pointed out that the European Health Consumer Index (EHCI) compared waiting times for major elective surgeries, cancer treatments and CT scans.

"Switzerland scored maximum points in all areas,” she said.

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/12/09 15:21

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