What is the Swiss health service really like?

November 14, 2022, 9 Comments

Four months ago I’d only had limited contact with the Swiss health service: paying my obligatory insurance, having occasional check-ups and suffering the odd minor hiccup. Four months ago I was diagnosed with cancer.

After weeks of intimate almost daily contact with healthcare professionals, I have a very clear picture of what the Swiss health service is really like. And it comes down to five basic traits:

Efficiency: this being Switzerland, you might expect the system to run like clockwork, especially as it’s essentially private health care. And it did, most of the time. When it was good, it was amazing, such as radiotherapy appointments timed to the minute and planned weeks ahead. But then there were the times when I was left waiting for days without any contact from anyone. Even in a well-run system, you still have to push for action sometimes.

Being in isolation once meant getting my own room

Formality: everyone is very formal all the time. It’s always last names and Sie, not first names and du. ‘Schmidt is my name’ is how nurses or doctors would first greet me (even if they had trouble with my last name – I was usually Bay-ves not Bewes). I soon changed that. After two operations, I knew the theatre team as Cedric, Jürgen and Sofia. After two days in hospital, it was first names all around for me. So much more relaxing and welcoming.

A very Swiss breakfast, even in hospital

Money: perhaps the most fascinating part of being ill in Switzerland is that every part of your expensive treatment is itemised. Need an MRI? That’ll be 608 francs. Ten-minute phone call your consultant? That’s 56 francs. Painkillers, they’re 8 francs for 20 tablets. Calling an ambulance is painful at 614 francs. The good news was that it’s covered by my insurance (minus my deductible of 500 francs and co-pay of 700 francs). No debts or risk of bankruptcy.

Not a bad view to wake up to after an operation

Technology: Bern isn’t a big city but it has great hospitals with top-notch machines, and qualified staff to run them. I was never in any doubt that I was getting the best possible treatment, be that hi-tech PET-CT scans or my daily dose of radiation. And the low-tech wasn’t bad either, from good food to comfortable beds. I even once had a room with a view.

In Switzerland, ” is short for hours not inches!

Reality: no one spoke in euphemisms and if anything it was sometimes too direct. ‘This isn’t a death sentence’ was how I was told the tumour was malignant. ‘You have to get better or you’ll spoil my statistics’ was another gem, and I wasn’t entirely sure if he was joking or not (the Swiss are very serious about their statistics). But better direct than not.

Now it’s back to being patient. After weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, I must wait for my body to recover before the next round of scans and tests in December. Then I’ll know if the treatments have worked but until then, I know I’m in good Swiss hands.

9 Comments on "What is the Swiss health service really like?"

  1. Rocio Monday November 14th, 2022 at 10:05 PM · Reply

    Oh! So sorry to hear you were sick!. 🙁 I’m happy that you are back; it was kind of strange your lack of posts. I thought, another book, maybe… but no…. 🙁
    I’m confident you will not spoil your doctor’s statistics (who would dare!) And I hope to read that in december everything runs fantastically well.

  2. Vicky Monday November 14th, 2022 at 10:52 PM · Reply

    My goodness Diccon. Wishing you a complete recovery.

  3. Colin Bewes Tuesday November 15th, 2022 at 08:54 AM · Reply

    Fascinating insights. Loved the quip about statistics. Glad you’re being looked after well.

  4. klee Tuesday November 15th, 2022 at 10:01 AM · Reply

    speedy recovery! cancer sucks

  5. Barbara Langdale Tuesday November 15th, 2022 at 01:56 PM · Reply

    I was saddened to read your ‘brush with illness’ post. Wishing you a full recovery & ongoing god health. Look forward to some good news in December, I love to read your Swiss posts. Warm wishes.

  6. Paul Burkhalter Wednesday November 16th, 2022 at 09:17 PM · Reply

    Diccon, I echo the others comments, and add my best wishes for a full recovery.

  7. Jacqui Spalding Wednesday November 16th, 2022 at 10:47 PM · Reply

    Sorry that you have had “insider knowledge” in this case. Wishing you a speedy, full recovery.

  8. Marianne Thursday November 17th, 2022 at 04:42 AM · Reply

    Your first picture looked all too familiar to me. I hope your doctors have found the right medicine and treatment for your type of cancer. Thankfully, here in Canada there is also no debt or risk of bankruptcy. Wishing you a good outcome!

  9. Rebecca Thursday November 24th, 2022 at 05:03 AM · Reply

    Diccon, Chris & I (from the Bellinzona trip) were so sorry to read this… & also appreciated your insights. Hope your #s boost that doctor’s statistics & that you feel in top shape soon.

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