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Doctors and Hospitals for Expats in Italy

Submitted: April 2014

Italy has the second best healthcare system in the world according to the WHO 2000 ranking. Availability of highly-trained doctors and modern equipment should not be a problem, except perhaps if you live in Southern Italy, in which case you might have to travel a bit further North.

Italian doctors do not necessarily speak fluent English. Consequently, you might wish to check these matters in advance. A list of Italian keywords can be found here.

Italy is not known to be a particularly expensive country when it comes to healthcare, unless you really wish to go to the most comfortable private clinics. Overall, Italy’s total healthcare expenditures stand at around 9.5% of GDP, which is roughly the average among developed countries. Consequently, treatment will generally be provided with good value for money.

If you are not happy with the Italian healthcare system, you can still consider postponing treatment until after you leave Italy. In any event, you must go to an Italian hospital if you are in an emergency situation.


Subsidised vs. private sector treatment

In Italy, subsidised treatment is generally available only for:

Many Italian doctors and hospitals are in the private sector. However, they may have a convention, and therefore be eligible for subsidised treatment. If in any doubt, be upfront and feel free to ask your doctor if he has a convention with the Government.


Fees (private sector)

There is no fees schedule for private sector treatment in Italy.


Finding a doctor

You should look for a good general practitioner (Medico di famiglia) in your local area as soon as possible. It is advisable to also look for a paediatrician if you have children. GPs are directly paid by the SSN, and they can take on up to 1500 patients. Patients are able to change their GP if they wish to, but they will have to check if their prospective GP can take new patients.

It is generally better to obtain prior GP referral before going to a specialist. If you do, treatment will be subsidised, with only a 25% co-payment due. The issue is, you may have to wait for a while before you can see the specialist doctor. If you absolutely wish to circumvent these waiting times, you can go straight to a specialist and pay the full bill out-of-pocket.

Feel free to:

Word of mouth can help you determine if a specific doctor or hospital is trustworthy or not. You are always better off knowing in advance who you can trust.


Hospital treatment

Italy has public hospitals (Ospedali) and private clinics or nursing homes (Clinica/Casa di cura). Just like specialist treatment, you are free to opt for private sector treatment.

Hospital treatment is provided free of charge. Service quality is good, but long waiting times may apply if you need to undertake a planned surgery. Apart from emergency situations, you will need prior GP referral before being admitted to the hospital. Expect to wait for several months, especially in larger towns.

Do not expect hospital stays to be a comfortable experience. In general, there are three or six beds per hospital room. Private hospital rooms do not qualify for subsidised treatment, and they are unlikely to have a TV or a landline phone.


Dental care

Dental care is not free, but it may be subsidised under a co-payment mechanism. In such cases, you will need prior GP referral. The subsidy results in you having to foot no more than 25% of the bill.

If in any doubt, ask your dentist if you will qualify for the co-payment.


Abortion and contraception

Abortion is not permitted unless it is made within 90 days of the beginning of the last menstruation. Before undertaking the surgery, you will need prior referral from a GP, a gynaecologist or the Family Advice Bureau.

If you think you need an emergency contraception pill, you should go without delay to your GP, the Family Advice Bureau or the hospital.



Some drugs are sold over-the-counter, i.e. without a prescription, but medicines are generally sold by pharmacists only.

In practice, you would need a prescription from a GP in most cases. This is either because prescription is required, or because prescription drugs are subsidised by the SSN while over-the-counter drugs are not.

At the pharmacy, you may be suggested to take a generic drug instead of the one you have been prescribed.



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