The country spends about 10 percent of its GDP on health, placing Switzerland near the top of OECD countries for medical expenditures.
This considerable investment means the country possesses a wealth of medical facilities employing the latest technology, as well as one of the world’s lowest patient-to-doctor ratio (and a high ratio of well-trained nurses to doctors).
The high level of healthcare in Switzerland comes at a cost. Everyone living in the country is required to have basic health insurance (Soziale Krankenversicherung / Assurance maladie / Assicurazione-Mallatie).
Foreigners must obtain health insurance within the first three months of their arrival in Switzerland and babies must be insured within three months of birth.
Individuals are responsible for contacting insurance providers, since employers do not necessarily arrange for coverage.
Several public and private insurance companies are available, but it is usually necessary to register with one of the state-run Swiss insurance companies. In many cases, the Swiss insurance authorities do not accept global health insurance even if the policy states that it covers medical care in Switzerland.
Depending on the level of cover, an annual individual health insurance package can cost up to CHF 10,000. Reductions are often available through the employer, who may offer a group policy which offers discounted premiums. By law, an employer is obliged to insure all employees for accidents; costs are split by employee and employer.
Health and accident insurance for spouses and children is compulsory in Switzerland. Insure each household member individually, as family members are not automatically covered by one parent’s membership.
Visitors to Switzerland for three months or less may be covered by a reciprocal agreement between the home country and Switzerland, or by a private health insurance scheme.
In addition to its high level of public sector health care, Switzerland also possesses one of the world’s largest private health care sectors.
Geneva and Zurich in particular draw international patients seeking health advice and treatment.
These facilities are generally very costly and are usually not entirely covered by health and accident insurance. It is best to enquire prior to admission. Due to the international nature of this sector, most of the staff is English-speaking.
Before going to directly to see a doctor, many Swiss people visit a pharmacist. Pharmacists are highly qualified and most speak English.
Pharmacies in Switzerland are clearly marked with a green cross. Although equivalents of all medicines may be obtained in Switzerland, it is advised to bring a supply of needed medicines when relocating as they can be expensive.
Many medicines frequently found in supermarkets or considered ‘over the counter’ elsewhere are generally only available at the pharmacy. They can be purchased without prescription but must be requested.
Doctors are often willing to write prescriptions for these medicines when used in the course of general treatment; sometimes the cost of these medicines is covered by the insurance provider.
Pharmacies are listed in the telephone directory, and even the smallest mountain villages usually have at least one. All-night pharmacies operate in most large towns and cities.
In any kind of emergency, the one uniform number to dial is 144; this will connect to the operator who will route the call to the police, ambulance or fire services.
Depending on the gravity of the accident, you may wish to phone for an air ambulance (REGA) by dialing 1414, or +41 333 333 333 from a foreign mobile phone.