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Could going to a Swiss hospital without a referral cost you 50 francs?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Could going to a Swiss hospital without a referral cost you 50 francs?
Have your doctor asses you to decide whether your case is serious enough for emergency room. Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash

The move to impose a 50-franc fee on those who seek emergency care at a Swiss hospital without a doctor’s referral is not new, but Swiss MPs are taking up this issue again.

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After being green-lighted in both chambers of the parliament in 2019 and 2021, the proposal to charge 50 francs for unreferred visits to emergency rooms had remained in limbo.  

But last week, the Social Security Committee of the National Council voted to take up this draft bill again. 

This move is intended to stop people from seeking emergency help for mild cases.

However, children and pregnant women would be exempt from this rule, as would those who come with life-threatening conditions or those who require hospitalisation.

Under the proposal, the 50 francs would be part of the health insurance co-pay, which means the person would have to pay it out of their own pocket.

Supporters of the proposal argue that too many people show up at emergency rooms with mild symptoms that don’t require urgent care but should be treated by family doctors.

They also say such visits not only unnecessarily use hospitals’ resources, but also contribute to the already very high healthcare costs. 

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'Hardly feasible'

The proposed measure has also sparked a wave of criticism.

According to Swiss Society of Emergency Medicine, the notion of a benign case is vague and implementing is “hardly feasible.”

“Instead of taking patients’ subjective feelings seriously, we treat them as ‘hypochondriacs,’ it said.

And the Federation of Swiss Doctors pointed out that sometimes cases that start as mild “can turn out to be serious after examination.”

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How can you know whether your symptoms are serious enough to warrant a visit to the ER?

Emergency rooms are for just that: true medical emergencies, which, if not treated quickly and immediately, can be life-threatening.

This includes (but is not limited to) heart attacks and strokes, head trauma, severe respiratory distress, heavy bleeding, serious injuries, and other conditions where any delay in treatment can put your life or health at risk.

On average, ERs refuse the admission to the 30-40 percent of patients deemed non-urgent, according to Swiss Medical Review.

Before you go there, get your condition evaluated by other medical professionals.

Your first point of contact should be your primary physician (GP), who can decide whether you need to go to the hospital or can be treated another way.

In the event you don’t have a GP (or are a tourist), there are other options available in Switzerland, such as medical centres and walk-in clinics in virtually all cities.

If you are not sure how serious your condition is, you can call a “duty doctor” service (Notarzt in German, médecin de garde in French). Their numbers vary by cantons; it is 0800 33 66 55 in Zurich, 022 748 49 50 in Geneva, 061 261 15 15 in Basel, and 0848 133 133 in Vaud.

READ ALSO: What are Switzerland's guidelines for health emergencies?

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