Healthcare Services

Doctors in Italy

Need to access doctors in Italy? Discover the registration and appointment process, and learn more about specialists, tests, prescriptions, and costs.

doctors in Italy

By Chiara Caporale

Updated 16-3-2024

You have relocated to Italy, found a great job, moved into your new home, and settled your children in school. Next, you would probably need to get health insurance and register with a doctor. However, understanding a foreign healthcare system can be daunting, especially with a language barrier if you still need to learn Italian.

Learn how to navigate the complex Italian healthcare system, so you and your family can also access health insurance, primary care, specialists, and emergency services.

Here is everything you need to know about finding a doctor in Italy:

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Doctors in Italy

The good news if you plan to move to this beautiful country is that Italy has an excellent public healthcare system ranked fourth in the world by the Bloomberg Healthcare Efficiency Index (2022). According to World Bank data, Italy’s life expectancy rates (83 years in 2021) are also some of the highest in the EU.

Doctor consulting a patient across a desk while reading from their chart
Photo: Cottonbro/Pexels

All Italian residents can access the public healthcare system, known as Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), with their health card (Tessera Sanitaria, TS). This service provides free or economically accessible medical care across Italy’s 20 regions. As each province manages its own medical services, the level of care may differ slightly.

The Italian healthcare system has a high doctor-to-patient ratio, with 4.1 doctors per 1000 population, which is higher than most of the EU, according to the OECD’s Country Health Profile (2021).

The public system provides all necessary medical services, including general practitioner (GP) care, hospitals, surgeries, specialist visits, laboratory tests, and most medications. If you need a doctor in Italy but wish to go privately, it also has a private healthcare system.

While many services are free in Italy’s public healthcare system, some do require a small co-payment, called a ticket, which varies depending on the region, medical urgency, or economic status of the patient.

Who can access doctors in Italy?

All residents have access to the public health care system if they are registered with the SSN and have the Tessera Sanitaria (health card). Foreign citizens with a permit to reside in Italy qualify for the same medical services as all Italian citizens in the public system. When registering for the SSN, residents can also choose their GP free of charge.

If you are coming to Italy as a citizen of another EU country, you should have your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will give you free access to the public healthcare system for emergency room visits and GP consultations, as well as specialist visits for a small fee. All EU citizens may also access the private system at a cost. Still, a separate health insurance plan may cover these fees.

When traveling or moving to Italy as a non-EU citizen, a health insurance plan can cover the cost of specialists, emergency room (ER) visits, medications, and diagnostic tests. For example, if you are in Italy on vacation and need urgent medical assistance, an Italian hospital will treat you but will charge you a co-payment.

Finding a doctor

One of the first things you need to do when moving abroad is to find a doctor. If you plan on living in Italy, you will need to register for the healthcare system at the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL), which is the local health authority. Once you enroll with the health system, you can choose your GP and pediatrician for your children. Residents are free to select their doctor and may change their GP if they aren’t satisfied. You can find a list of available doctors on the health authority’s (ASL) website in your city and region.

The Ministero della Salute regulates the medical field in the country. The government also provides a database of licensed doctors practicing in Italy known as Elenco Medici Competenti. This registry allows patients to view a list of practicing healthcare providers divided by region, updated yearly.

Man searching on laptop and calling doctor's office from work
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Your GP can recommend a specialist, or you may search for a doctor online through these websites:

  • Doctors in Italy: quickly access an English-speaking, private GP or specialist appointment at a cost, both online and in-person
  • MedinAction: provides a range of English-speaking healthcare services including house calls. They work with many international health insurers in Italy.
  • MioDottore: find GPs and specialists, both private and public, for a fee. Some doctors on the website also offer video consultations, and many speak English.

If your doctor refers you to a public specialist, they often operate from hospitals. You can book specialist visits by calling the hospitals directly or through a central booking system called Centro Unico Prenotazioni (CUP) on 800 098798 from a landline and 0721 1779301 from a mobile phone.

You can also book specialist appointments with the CUP directly at some pharmacies. Pharmacists tend to be knowledgeable and willing to help.

Certain appointments have a longer wait time, depending on demand and availability. If you wish to see the specialist more quicker, you can book an appointment privately. Of course, this will incur a fee.

Finding English-speaking doctors

Many doctors in Italy speak English, especially in big cities. If you need emergency care, hospitals are also well-equipped with English-speaking medical staff. Again, to find an English-speaking private specialist, you may refer to MedinAction.

It might be difficult to find English-speaking medical staff in some rural parts of Italy. Still, many towns have a medical center for internationals or tourists called Guardia Medica Turistica. However, these medical centers are only for primary care, not life-threatening emergencies. Most rural hospitals have some staff that speaks English. To find a local Guardia Medica Turistica, do a local online search.

Registering with a doctor in Italy

To register for medical care in Italy with the SSN, you must enroll at your local ASL. You can do this for your whole household simultaneously. Make sure you bring all your residency or immigration documents, including your Codice Fiscale (tax code), which you should have received when applying for residency.

The medical registration process is bureaucratically long and tricky and requires patience. You will to make an appointment with the ASL ahead of time. You should also confirm all necessary documents over the phone or via e-mail before going to your meeting.

Of course, once you have received your health card, you can access all public medical care in Italy and select your GP. Your health card will expire every six years, after which the SSN will mail you a new card that you can activate at some pharmacies or your local ASL.

Making a doctor’s appointment

Your GP should have their working hours – and phone availability – listed on their website or at their office. Once you register with the GP, it is a good idea to make an appointment immediately to meet your doctor. The GP usually does not accept walk-ins, but you can schedule an appointment over the phone. Wait times for appointments may vary, but for more urgent visits, GPs often have after-hour availability to fit extra patients in, even on the same day.

For specialists or lab appointments, you may book online for the private system or telephonically through the CUP. You can even set up appointments via most pharmacies. Your GP may also provide the phone number to call directly. For non-urgent specialist appointments in the public system, the wait time may vary from a few days to a few months. For some laboratory tests, such as blood work, sometimes no appointment is needed in the public health system.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to see a doctor without an appointment in Italy unless you go to the ER or visit the Guardia Medica. This is an urgent care center in most towns that operates after the GP’s working hours and on weekends. Remember that the Guardia Medica is for everyone, but the Guardia Medica Turistica is a facility specifically for tourists. It is open during the day too, and all staff speaks English.

What to expect when visiting a doctor

When visiting your doctor or the hospital in Italy, remember to bring a form of identification (e.g., passport or driver’s license) and a health card. Usually, if you have an appointment, the wait time is short, but doctors may run a bit late if they have many patients scheduled.

Whereas, if you go to the hospital, the nurses will assess the emergency and assign a level of priority based on your symptoms, which will determine how long you wait. The wait time at the ER can vary from instant care to hours, depending on how busy the hospital is and the severity of your situation. Private hospitals usually have shorter wait times.

Doctor does a home visit to a very ill patient
Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

Doctors in Italy tend to be helpful, but they are often swamped and overworked, so do not be surprised if they are not overly friendly.

At the appointment, the doctor will ask for your symptoms and medical history and will perform a physical examination. Some doctors will also consult online or telephonically and can send a digital prescription or referral for laboratory testing. Telehealth appointments have gained popularity in recent years.

Although less common, doctors in Italy also do home visits, especially GPs and pediatricians, although these visits are usually reserved for severely ill patients.

Medical specialists in Italy

Many kinds of medical specialists operate in Italy, from gynecologists to gastroenterologists. Statista (2020) states that 238,000 physicians worked across the public and private systems, including more than 50,000 GPs and 187,000 specialists. All doctors in Italy must hold an active medical license that you can verify via the Elenco Medici Competenti.

Patients registered with the state health system in Italy can access public specialists at a small fee (varying between regions). According to the SSN website, basic specialist visits cannot exceed €36.15. Anyone in Italy can also access private specialist visits, but these are much more expensive, ranging from €50–200 or more per consultation. Medical specialists tend to operate their practice or work from a medical center or hospital.

If a patient wishes to see a specialist via public healthcare, they need a referral. Otherwise, they could pay out of pocket. Your GP will give refer you for specialist visits, tests, and more in writing or telephonically. You do not need a referral to see a private specialist, and you can book directly.

Wait times for public specialists vary depending on the urgency of the medical condition, which could range from a few days to a couple of months. It is possible to see a private specialist quicker, even on the same day, if your care is urgent.

Finding a specialist

You may ask your GP for a specialist recommendation, or the specialist center could provide you with a register of doctors. There are also online platforms and databases listing specialists and their locations, including the languages they speak.

Medical specialist looking at brain and scull scans on a computer monitor
Photo: Tashi-Delek/Getty Images

A website where you can find an English-speaking doctor online or in person is MedinAction.

Visiting a specialist

You can make an appointment telephonically or online to visit a specialist in Italy. At your appointment, how long you wait to see the doctor depends on how busy they are. This waiting time is usually shorter at a private specialist. You will pay more out of pocket, especially if you do not have private health insurance.

Remember to bring your ID and health card to the appointment and any necessary documents you might need or that they have requested. The doctor will record the details of your GP and note your medical history.

Cost of doctors and specialists in Italy

When figuring out the cost of living in Italy, you would also need to budget for some medical fees. A GP consultation in Italy is free to all residents registered with the SSN. Costs for public and private specialists vary. On average, standard public consultations and checkups are around €36, according to the Italian Ministry of Health’s website. Treatments are free or affordable, depending on the severity of the illness, income, and whether you have a separate insurance plan. Depending on your cover, your insurance will reimburse most of your medical expenses.

In the private sector, fees range from €50–200 or more. However, depending on the severity of the illness, the urgency of care needed, and the patient’s income, some specialist visits may also be subsidized (i.e., not charged to the patient). Still, a private insurance plan can help cover these costs.

Typically, you will pay at the end of the appointment, either by bank card or cash, and the doctor’s office will issue a receipt with your name and address.

Health insurance in Italy

Private health insurance is less common in Italy because all can access the public healthcare system, which offers high-quality services. Even private healthcare is relatively affordable. Still, some internationals – and Italians – find comfort in having private insurance plans to cover the extra costs of private specialists or hospitalizations. Insurance plan premiums vary depending on your coverage.

You can use a comparison site to look for health insurance quotes or contact one of these reputable providers:

Of course, if you are only in Italy for a short visit, it is a good idea to purchase travel insurance to cover your stay. The coverage and cost depend on your insurance provider.

Private doctors and specialists in Italy

While Italy does have a private healthcare system, public medical facilities are nationally available. Unfortunately, doctors in the public system are overworked as they manage an extensive patient roster.

Many Italians use a mix of private and public facilities. For example, most Italians go to their public healthcare GP but may see a specialist privately. According to the Commonwealth Fund (2020), around 1 in 10 Italians use some form of additional health insurance to cover private costs. Still, the private system can be affordable if accessed occasionally.

Private specialists or hospitals provide the same care as the public system. Still, the private system often offers more comfort, a wider choice of providers, and shorter wait times. You also do not need a referral to access private specialists.

Doctor prescriptions

Are doctors willing to give prescriptions? Overall, yes, they prescribe medications if needed. Italian pharmacists are also well-trained and can provide sound medical advice, especially regarding over-the-counter medicines.

Prescriptions in Italy are free for specific chronic illnesses or urgent medical needs. When your doctor writes a prescription, they will also let you know which medications are covered by the SSN. Some prescriptions can be tax deductible. Just remember to scan your health card and keep the receipt for when you file your tax return. Some insurance plans may also cover the cost of medication. The Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) keeps an updated list of medication prices, although many patients will not pay the full fees for prescriptions if they have a valid Tessera Sanitaria.

You can fill the prescription at any pharmacy (farmacia). In general, prescription medication is affordable because the Italian government regulates the price. Italy also offers a wide range of over-the-counter drugs at pharmacies that do not require a prescription for minor conditions, cold and flu, vitamins, pain relief, and more.

Medical tests

Typically, GPs can perform a physical examination, draw blood, and administer vaccinations at their office. The doctor will refer you to the nearest medical laboratory for medical tests or a full blood workup.

Three lab technicians work with blood samples in test tubes
Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Doctors in Italy readily order medical tests depending on the patient’s age and underlying health conditions. They are also proactive in referring a patient to a specialist. Test results can be picked up in person or sent via e-mail.

In some cases, your doctor will call you or make another appointment to discuss test results, especially when further investigation or treatment is required.

Emergency doctors

In the case of a life-threatening situation, call the European-wide emergency number 112 or 118 for an ambulance.

The Italian equivalent of an emergency room (ER) or accident and emergency (A&E) at a hospital is called Pronto Soccorso. Here, doctors and nurses give patients with severe or life-threatening injuries or sudden illnesses emergency treatment, regardless of insurance. Once you arrive, the triage will assess your condition and assign a color depending on the level of need, for example:

Color codeLevel of need
RedLife-threatening, immediate care
YellowPotentially life-threatening
GreenMinor illness
WhiteNon-urgent condition

Patients with a white or green code may wait hours because doctors first treat the red and yellow codes. If your condition is not urgent, it is better to seek care from a GP during regular work hours. Alternatively, if you are on vacation in Italy, you can visit a Guardia Medica Turistica (i.e., an urgent medical center for tourists).

Making a complaint about doctors or specialists in Italy

Patient rights in Italy are protected by law. If you have suffered negative consequences to your health due to a medical error, you can pursue legal action.

You may also file a complaint if you are dissatisfied with the medical treatment or service you received. For issues experienced in a public healthcare facility, you could first contact the facility’s Public Relations Office (Ufficio Relazioni con il Pubblico, URP).

If you are unhappy with their response, you could take it further to the National Contact Point (NCP). They will assist you with inquiries about the medical service you received and advise how to file complaints. You can submit a form to the NPC online, and they will reply within 30 working days.

Italian medical phrases

Most doctors in Italy can communicate in English. However, it is a good idea to have a phrasebook or a translator app on your phone in case you need to explain more complicated phrases in Italian.

Here are some useful phrases to use at the doctor in Italy:

Ho doloreI am in pain
Ho la febbreI have a fever
Ho mal di panciaI have a stomach ache
Ho mal di testaI have a headache
Prendo farmaciI take medication
Sono allergicoI am allergic
Ho la nauseaI have nausea
Ho mal di dentiMy teeth hurt
Ho la tosseI have a cough
Ho mal di golaI have a sore throat
Mi sono fatto maleI have gotten hurt

Useful resources

  • – official Ministry of Health (Ministero della Salute) website
  • MedinAction – useful medical information (English) and a search portal for English-speaking doctors in Italy
  • MioDottore – search for a specialist or GP in Italy