Which Doctor to Go to in Italy - Excerpt from How to Be an American in Italy (The Book)

This week, I have been working on getting my tessera sanitaria, the card that gives Italian residents official access to the doctors and hospitals within the Italian public health system. In my next post I will tell you all about that (once I have the experience and the card to back it up), but today, I am going to share an excerpt from my book, How to Be an American in Italy, that is on a related topic: which doctor to visit in Italy when you are sick or hurt.

As I mention below, this is a quick and simple guide I may add on to in a future post, but if you are currently in Italy and currently wondering which doctor does what, this list will really come in handy!

Without any further ado, here is the free book excerpt:


Which Doctor Do I Need?

Good news: Italy has free healthcare! This is a big part of what Italians pay for when they pay their taxes, so health services (even for expats who haven't gotten their health insurance card, the Tessera Sanitaria, yet) are free or very low-cost.

So, if you get hurt or are under the weather while you're under the Tuscan (or Venetian, or Sicilian, or Sardinian, or Milan-ian...) sun, you don't have to worry about how much a doctor's visit will cost you. The only thing you do have to worry about is figuring out which type of doctor to see. Here is a broad, general look at the different types of health care available:

  • Medico di base (or medico di famiglia) - If you are an official Italian resident, this should be your go-to doctor. A medico di base or medico di famiglia is (literally, in the latter case) the family doctor, and you should go to yours for general consultations, physicals, and exams. If you are sick, they can prescribe medications, or they can send you to the right place to get an x-ray, ultrasound, or whatever else may help diagnose your condition. Like most doctor's offices in America, they are only open during normal business hours.
  • Pronto soccorso - Pronto soccorso is basically the Italian equivalent of our emergency room. go here if you have a broken bone, heart attack, stroke, or any other very serious, very urgent medical issue. You can also go here outside of the regular business hours, unlike the medico di base.
  • Guardia medica - Guarda medica is similar to what we would call an "urgent care center" in America. It is a substitute for a family doctor, and you can go here after business hours are over, during the weekends, or if your regular doctor is just out of the office for some reason.
  • Guardia turistica - Guardia turistica is the same as guardia medica, but it caters specifically to people who are visiting Italy and/or don't have permanent residency. Even though it is for people whose home country probably wouldn't do the same, treatment here is usually free or low-cost.
  • Pediatra - A pediatra is a pediatrician, so this is where you would take your children if they get ill or hurt. They are typically the same as the family doctor, but they specialize in children's health and can also tell you whether your little one is on the right track in terms of height, weight, and other factors.


This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of all the specialties that exist, but it should at least give you a good idea of where you need to go for most common medical problems.


If you are interested in reading more tips about daily life in Italy, you can check out How to Be an American in Italy on Amazon or other online bookstores.

Now that that shameless self-promotional plug is out of the way, do you have any questions about the Italian health system I could answer in a future post? Let me know in the comments!

I am covered by Italy’s health care system. However, I find using private diagnostic centers for blood/urine tests and scans is reasonably priced and saves a lot of time and stress. The first blood work I needed required going to my local clinic to make an appointment. I waited for over two hours. On the day of my appointment I had to wait for a similar amount of time to have my blood taken. In a few days when I returned to pick up my results, another long wait was inevitable. Contrast that with walk-in service at a private lab to have blood or urine taken with results available later that day or next day. Same experience with ultrasounds and even MRIs at a different type of diagnostic center. Access to service as these is simply not available in the US or would be prohibitively expensive. I find these facilities are very modern, efficient and professional. My extensive labs are usually under €100 and scans under €150. Someone I know just got a colonoscopy at a private clinic recommended by his medico base practicing under the national health care system. It cost €200! I have used Italy’s sanitaria system more extensively than I would have imagined all with very good results including two surgeries. The system works though how it is administered may sometimes feel ‘foreign’. I am now better acquainted with both private and public services available to me. I enjoy more flexibility and value knowing how to work the system to my particular needs and tolerances. Hope this is useful to you and your blog readers.

Thank you for sharing your experience, Thomas! That is very useful. It is always so crazy to me that you can get tests like colonoscopies in Italy done so cheap when the price is so high in the U.S. (and I think the waiting is the real price you pay for such a low-cost healthcare system, haha)!

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