If you don’t first register with a French doctor, you risk paying higher doctor fees; this guide explains what you need to register with a doctor in France, or ‘médecin traitant’.
Every adult seeking medical attention must choose a primary doctor in France, or médecin traitant, or risk higher healthcare fees and being reimbursed at a lower rate.
Finding French doctors, especially English-speaking doctors in France, however, is not difficult if you do proper research. This guide explains what you need for seeing a doctor in France and how to find the best French doctor for your situation.
Conditions for registering with a French doctor
Since 2006, residents in France – except children aged 16 years and under – have been required by the French health system to choose a general practitioner (GP) or primary attending doctor in France (médecin traitant). Those who fail to abide by this rule are penalised with higher medical fees and little to no reimbursement for healthcare services from their French health insurance scheme.
The law requiring patients to select a primary French doctor was intended to reduce costs and place the responsibility on your French doctor to:
- draft a preventative and curative health plan (parcours de soin) for a patient’s treatment
- maintain records of that treatment
- refer the patient to specialists as needed.
Until this law kicked in, anyone covered by French social security could go to any French doctor or specialist at any time. The old system had the virtue of simplicity, but encouraged abuse by letting patients consult with several doctors at a time without any coordination of treatment, prescriptions, etc.
European citizens can visit any French doctor using their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if they are visiting France temporarily.
How to find a doctor in France
Patients are free to choose their own doctor in France and register with them as their médecin traitant. Primary French doctors are mostly self-employed and work either alone or in group practices. Most French doctors have also signed a convention, a licensing system that doctors voluntarily enter into with the state; if you want a non-general practitioner as your primary doctor in France, you may consider asking about this.
French doctors are not allowed to advertise so it is also helpful to ask your family and friends for recommendations, especially if you prefer English-speaking doctors in France or foreign doctors in France who can speak other languages. You can also find a service that connects you to English-speaking doctors in France if you are a member.
Seeing specialists in France
The médecin traitant can refer you onto other French doctors and specialists, but will still hold and maintain your medical records and co-ordinate follow-up treatments. If you are referred by your médecin traitant around 70 percent of costs for other medical consultations or treatments will be reimbursed.
Seeing a doctor in France or a specialist without any referral will cause your medical fees to be higher and you’ll be reimbursed much less by the French health insurance scheme.
However, you don’t need a referral from your doctor in France to see a gynaecologist, paediatrician or ophthalmologist but can consult them directly; the same applies in special circumstances, for example, in emergencies or if your doctor or locum is absent. If you’re under 26 you can also see a psychiatrist without a referral from primary French doctors.
Exceptions for doctor referrals in France
There are some cases when it’s permissible to skip the call to your primary doctor in France:
- for emergency medical care either at home or while travelling;
- when you’re travelling in France or abroad or your primary French doctor is unavailable (on vacation, for example);
- an appointment with a gynaecologist, ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, neuropsychiatrist, neurologist or dentist – these French doctors can refer your records back to your primary doctor in France, but only with your consent;
- parents do not need to fill out forms for children under 16.
In the case of emergencies, you can also visit a hospital emergency department; see a list of main hospitals in Paris and around France.
What to do when seeing a doctor in France
After choosing a doctor in France, your new French doctor’s office will hand you a form that you can return to them after completion. It must be signed by both you and your doctor. They will, in turn, submit it to the local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) to finish the registration. You can also bring your own Déclaration de choix du médecin traitant form (S3704) to your doctor’s office on your first visit. You can read more information on the L’Assurance Maladie en Ligne website about how to see a doctor in France.
You have the right to change your primary doctor in France at any time for any reason but, of course, you will have to fill out the form again with your new doctor.
Every time you visit a French doctor or buy prescribed medicines you’ll receive a ‘fiche de soins‘; this brown form details your treatments and costs. Many doctors only fill out the bottom part with their details, in which case you must fill out the top part with your own details; if you have a permanent French social security number include that information in your form, but if you only have a temporary number leave that part blank.
You will then need to send everything to your French health insurer. You can include a brief letter detailing your identification number (numéro d’adhérant) and social security number, and make sure you enclose your doctor’s declaration (formulaire de déclaration de médecin traitant), the fiche de soins and a RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire), which is a statement of your bank details.
Cost of doctors in France
Costs for seeing a doctor in France are always paid upfront, although there may be some exceptions if a patient carries a carte vitale (national insurance card). Fees vary depending on whether the doctor identifies as a Secteur 1, Secteur 2 or non convetionné medical professional:
- Secteur 1 French doctors charge fixed rates set by social security.
- Secteur 2 French doctors can charge higher fees but within reason as they are bound by law.
- Non convetionné doctors in France are free to dictate whatever amount they desire for all medical services.
Secteur 1doctors currently charge EUR 23 per consultation but prices may vary slightly for children. These rates can also increase if the patient requests other unrelated medical procedures or if a Secteur 1 doctor in France does a home visit.
Some doctors have taken to advertising outside their practice whether they fall under the Secteur 1, Secteur 2 or non convetionné categories. Visit the L’Assurance Maladie website for a full list of rates for Secteur 1 and Secteur 2 French doctors.
Any treatment by a specialist (médecin correspondant) must be coordinated by your primary doctor in France. Fees for a médecin correspondant are usually higher than French doctors, but this will be reimbursed at normal levels if you have a referral. You can read more about cost of doctors in France.
Reimbursement rates for French doctors
As of 2016, everyone is supposed to have filled out a form naming their médecin traitant in order to be reimbursed at the normal 70 percent level. A ‘participation forfaitaire’ fee of EUR 1 for claims for doctor visits, x-rays, and tests is also payable as a kind of national health tax, which cannot exceed EUR 4 per day or a cap of EUR 50 per person annually. This means your reimbursement payments should equal 70 percent minus EUR 1. Woman pregnant beyond the six month and children under 18 are exempt from this tax.
Anyone who hasn’t signed up with a primary doctor in France is generally eligible for only 60 percent reimbursement (minus EUR 1), but you may not be reimbursed at all by either social security, your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or even additional private health insurance (mutuelle) for treatment by certain specialists without a referral. For more information about what is covered by French healthcare insurance, read our guide here.
Private insurance for medical treatment in France
If you want a higher level of insurance coverage for health treatment in France, or are covered by public health insurance, there are a number of international health insurance companies that offer packages for expats in France, including: