Chemists in France play a strong complementary role for doctors and hospital specialists.
According to the World Health Organization, France has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and more people visit the doctor here than in any other place – and of course, doctors write prescriptions in order to give them to their patients.
A good place to start
Pharmacy staff are highly trained, which means that they spend six or seven years of university studies and, therefore, usually competent in providing diagnostic and over-the-counter cure for many common illnesses. While you certainly do not substitute for a doctor, they can be a good place to start if you’re off color. Do not be afraid to ask for advice, describe your symptoms and show them the spot that really hurt you. Many pharmacies ( pharmacie de garde ) in popular expat regions of France will be happy to serve you with in English as there is almost always an English speaker. Just ask them to.
More than just a chemist
Most pharmacies will carry out first aid, give blood pressure gauges and show you how to use them, advise on the edibility of the mushrooms picked, rent out and deliver materials such as crutches, wheelchairs, beds for the disabled customers. They are always here for every need you may have.
Always open in every place
Pharmacies open shop and are closed Sunday and Bank holidays. However, there will always be at least one ‘service de garde’ in each area providing out-of-hours service in case of emergency. Look for a notice in the window of any pharmacy, or in your local newspaper, to find out which pharmacy is scheduled to be open each week. If you are in a hurry you can search on line which store is open in your area after midnight.
Only drugstores are allowed to sell over-the-counter, non-prescription drugs, so you will not find paracetemol or hemorrhoid cream at your local corner shop or supermarket. There is no state repayment for over the counter drugs, unless they have been prescribed by a doctor. So you may have to pay for them but the need comes way over above money.
No needle needed
Many French chemists have a varied range of homeopathic medicines and pharmacists often recommend them. Some are even refunded by the state when prescribed by a doctor. For example, if you are a little needle phobic but should have a flu jab, ask your pharmacist for Influenza, homeopathic medication of granules made every year according to the current virus, and just as in effect as the nasty needle.
You will often be given generic drugs with different names, a cheaper equal of the ‘branded’ drug you may be using. You can ask for specific branded drugs but you will only take a refund for the equivalent generic drug.
Left over medicines
Medicine in France is dispensed by the pack, so you will often end up with much more than you need. For example, if you are prescribed a twelve-day course of antibiotics and these come in packs of ten, you will receive two packs, almost half of which you will not use. Take your surplus drugs to your local pharmacy and they will send them for recycling.
A drop in standards
The high standard of French health care and low price of prescription drugs could soon change, as state contributions to medicine are about to be substantially reduced. This reduction will also affect the amount of reimbursement from your ‘complémentaire santé’, so this is a good time to check the conditions of your top up health policy.
A beauty shop in your area
A chemist is not only the educated man that is going to give you the best med you need. He is also going to propose to you the best face balm and the safest sun screen you need, among all the other cosmetics that you will find in a pharmacy store.
A true friend
A chemist that you usually visit is not only the person that you just go and take your meds on your way home. He is the person you may want to confess something that bothers you, a man you are going to discuss about all your fears and most of all, a true friend. The pharmacies in France, follow their own way, making strong relationships with their clients. This is due to the fact that there are no chains in the country and all the stores are basically from one generation to another. You may have been served by the father and now by the son. It is something like family bonding.
Last but not least
I cannot possibly end without mentioning the good old suppository! Used in France to cure sore throats, fevers, inflammations, and a whole range of illnesses, whether they are bottom related or not, this is a French treatment that still makes the Brits go ‘oh là la’!
So the next you are going to be in France, do not forget to visit a drugstore. It does not matter that you are stranger. A typical French dentist ( dentiste de garde samedi ) is sure going to make you feel like you are at home, serving you in a great and formal way. Do not forget to tell him the place you are coming from. Believe me, he is going to remember you the next time you are visiting his place.