Hopefully you won’t need the help of one of the doctors in South Africa, but in case you do, here’s a guide on how to find a registered doctor in South Africa, what to do when visiting one and how South African doctors prescribe medicine.
If you have suitable medical insurance, the process of visiting a South African doctor is unlikely to be significantly different to that in your home country.
It’s easy to register your family with a doctor, and you should be able to get an appointment quickly. If, however, you’re relying on the state healthcare system, you could face poor conditions and long waiting times.
In this guide, we explain how to find a doctor when you move to South Africa and look at the difference between seeing the doctor in the public or private healthcare sector.
Doctors in South Africa – how to find one
If you have private medical insurance, your provider will usually have a network of preferred doctors, hospitals and clinics. For full information on the range of doctors in South Africa and specialists in your area, you can visit the MEDpages website – an online directory of professionals in your local area.
Visiting one of the South African doctors
You’ll usually see a general practitioner (GP) for any medical checkups and minor issues, and as in many other countries GPs usually operate either as part of larger surgeries or in individual offices. You’ll usually need to see a GP before being referred to a specialist.
Doctors are often assigned to private healthcare groups who have a network of clinics and hospitals around the country, meaning you could take out a plan to cover you for all eventualities. When first moving to the country and choosing a healthcare provider, selecting one with such a large network can save you time further down the line.
GP consultations in South Africa tend to last longer than you might be used to in your home country, and you can expect a somewhat more personal service with the opportunity to ask questions. You should also be provided with an out-of-hours contact for any important queries. Despite this quality service, consultations can be fairly cheap – around R 350 to R 400 for a basic appointment.
Signing up with one of the registered doctors in South Africa
Signing up at a doctor’s surgery in South Africa is less complicated than in many Western countries, which much less paperwork and fewer boxes to tick before you can are officially registered.
Before you have your first appointment with your doctor, you’ll need to fill out a new patient form, providing your address and some personal details. If you’re signing up on behalf of your children too, you should only need to provide their birth dates.
As choosing a doctor is a long-term decision for you and your family, do your research about the best clinic for you. To provide some reassurance, you can check your doctor is signed up with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, a regulatory body that ensures standards remain high across the industry.
Private doctors in South Africa
Specialists tend to be associated with individual hospitals. According to data from the World Health Organisation, South Africa dedicates 52% of its healthcare budget to the private sector, despite less than one in five people in the country having private health insurance.
If you do have a healthcare plan in place, you’ll need to ensure it covers whichever treatment you’re having, as you’ll usually need to pay at the surgery on the day and then recoup the charges back from the insurance company afterwards.
With visits to the doctor for basic checkups and minor issues being relatively low-cost, some expats choose to pay for these themselves to cut down on their medical premiums, instead choosing health insurance packages that only cover hospital visits and surgical treatment.
Visiting one of the specialist doctors in South Africa
As in many other countries, you’ll usually need to be referred to a specialist by your GP. Specialists usually work with one healthcare group or set of hospitals, and their bills can be expensive.
If you’re signed up to one of the larger healthcare insurance providers, you should be able to see a specialist quickly and easy, as although specialist services are available in state hospitals, waiting times can be prohibitive.
Public doctors in South Africa
If you don’t have private health insurance, you’ll be entitled to co-payments from the South African government of up to 40% of the cost of your treatment, depending on how much you earn.
As with other areas of healthcare, seeing a GP through the state healthcare system can be a waiting game, with surgeries significantly oversubscribed in some areas.
South Africa also struggles with a lack of doctors in the public health service, with figures from 2015 showing that the country has less than one doctor available for every 1000 people. With skilled staff usually gravitating towards the private sector in major cities, there remains a skills gap between private and public sectors and urban and rural areas.
Being prescribed medicine by South African doctors
Medicine prices are regulated in South Africa, with the single exit price (SEP) rules governing the maximum price that you can be charged for a medicine.
In addition to the medicine charge, you might have to pay a dispensing fee on top. In some cases, more than one version of a medicine is available – a brand name one and a generic one – with the latter usually available more cheaply.
- Medicine cost below R 107.15 – max. dispensing fee R 11 + 46% of the SEP
- Medicine cost below R 285.80 – max. dispensing fee R 24.30 + 33% of the SEP
- Medicine cost below R 1000.32, max. dispensing fee R 74.00 + 15% of the SEP
- Medicine cost R1000.32 (or above) – max. dispensing fee R 173.00 + 5% of the SEP