Updated last year

The country where Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine was born, has a long way to go towards becoming a medical pioneer again -- unfortunately, the financial crisis has severely affected the state of the Greek healthcare system. And although Greece doesn't have a shortage of good doctors, healthcare only amounts to 2.8% of its GDP, contributing to a lack of resources, cuts in essential hospital personnel and a drop in drug spending.

All this amounts to elongated waiting times in hospitals and clinics, as well as a decrease in the quality of treatments. The good news? The private sector is booming, and its services are, for the most part, quite affordable, whereas it’s still very simple (and not cost-prohibitive) to buy medicine yourself from a pharmacy, even without a prescription.

What you need to be aware of

The Greek healthcare system is basically an amalgam of a National Health System (NHS) that was first founded in 1983, compulsory social insurance, and a strong private healthcare system. There were many flaws in the NHS to begin with, but the austerity measures of 2011 really worsened the situation. What does that mean, practically, for you?

  • The standard of care you’ll be receiving will vary significantly depending on where you are. In short, if you’re on an island or a more remote location, chances are you’ll need to be transferred to either Athens or Thessaloniki in order to receive anything more than the basic standard of healthcare.
  • It is not uncommon to wait for hours to get proper care, even in the ER. Most hospitals have a big shortage of beds and supplies -- plus they have a policy of only accepting patients on the days they are “on call” (εφημερία) i.e. usually once or twice a week. Check which hospital is on call that day before going.
  • The age-old tradition of “fakelaki” (i.e. a small envelope with bribe money for the doctor to “take extra care of you”) is unfortunately still a thing. Not all hospitals do it and not all doctors will explicitly ask for it. This practice is certainly outside of the realm of legality.
  • Most, if not all, doctors also have a private practice. It is not uncommon for a doctor to see you at a public clinic and try to convince you to visit their private practices instead. More often than not, it’s actually a good idea, since they’ll probably have better equipment and resources in their private practice.
  • On that note, private clinics, practices and hospitals may be your best bet if there’s an emergency or you need to get your test results fast.
  • Finally, and this is very sad, you may have to lie about what happened to you or your loved one. Although according to the British Medical Journal the overall suicide rate in Greece rose by 35% since the crisis hit in 2010, suicide attempts are frowned upon by medical personnel in public hospitals. People brought in are probably not going to get the same quality of care if they admit what happened to them was not an accident. In delicate situations like that, you’d be advised to choose a private hospital.

All the above may sound overwhelming, but there are some very positive things about healthcare in Greece as well. Like the fact that you don’t need a GP to point you towards a specialised practitioner -- you can book an appointment directly. You can also get your medicine with a maximum 25% contribution on your behalf, if your social insurance covers it. In fact, even if you don’t have insurance or even a recipe, you can probably buy most meds over the counter for reasonable prices. Finally, on the subject of pharmacies: bear in mind that pharmacists are your friends -- most of them speak English and are capable diagnosticians, so if you explain your symptoms they may actually save you from a trip to the doctor.

Formalities

If you’re an EU-national, to get access to the NHS all you need is your E106 form, or the European Health Card (EHIC). That card can be accessed in your home country if you have paid for two full years of social security contributions and it entitles you to public health cover for a limited period of time. If you’re a retiree, receiving pension from your home country and looking to settle in Greece, you are also entitled to state health benefits. Non-EU, third country nationals can also get free health care benefits, if they have their E111 forms.

But that would be the short term solution. As soon as you get a job for a Greek company, you will have to apply for national health insurance (currently all different insurance institutions are being merged into one, called EFKA). You will receive a health booklet and will also be given an AMKA (a social insurance number). Bear in mind that your employer is bound by law to insure you, but some companies may actually offer a private health insurance which will actually be way better for you.

 Useful links:

All about EFKA

Ministry of Health

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