Italian National Healthcare System – Services

According to Italian law anyone who lives in Italy under the national healthcare system, including Italian and foreign citizens, have a right to healthcare. This means anyone can see a doctor or receive healthcare without having to pay and without having insurance.

The type of service depends on the type of document that each person has.

  • A newcomer in Italy without a permesso di soggiorno (residence permit) can only receive urgent, essential and continuous care.
  • A newcomer that has a residence permesso di soggiorno, or who applied to get a permesso di soggiorno, has a right to all services provided by the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN ) (national healthcare system).

The Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN)  is made up of all the services of assistance and healthcare that are present throughout Italy, from the largest cities to the smallest towns. 

The most important services provided by the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) are as follows:

The medico di base sees patients for any health problem. The service is free and the medico di base is obliged to see everyone without discrimination.

How to choose a medico di base?

To have access to a medico di base you first need to be registered with the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale. Then, you must go in person to the ASL office (the local healthcare office) closest to where you live to choose a medico di base.

The following documents must be presented at the ASL office to choose a medico di base:

  • passport;
  • permesso di soggiorno (residence permit);
  • tessera sanitaria (national health card);

The staff at the ASL office will provide a list of doctors from which you can choose. Usually, you must choose a doctor who is located near where you live so that it is easy to see the doctor.

Once you choose your doctor, the staff member will provide a printed sheet that includes all the information about the doctor:

  • First and last name; 
  • Phone number; 
  • Address; 
  • The hours during which patients can see the doctor.

In Italy doctors can be either men or women. You can ask for a male or female doctor when at the ASL office.

When should a patient see a medico di base?

You should see a family doctor when you are sick or to discuss health problems.

In fact, the family doctor sees patients in these cases:

  • in case of illness;
  • to advise which medication to take (the doctor will fill out a red prescription form for medications);
  • to advise which medical specialists to see or diagnostic exams to take (the doctor will fill out a red prescription form for specialists or exams).
  • to review the results of diagnostic exams and explain what steps need to be taken.

The pediatra is responsible for the healthcare of children. In Italy, all children, both Italian and newcomer, have a right to healthcare provided by a pediatra. This is valid also for the children of those newcomers who live in Italy without valid documents.

The pediatra takes care of children until the age of 14. Once children are older than 14 they must see the medico di base just like everyone else.

How to choose a pediatra?

The following documents need to be presented at the ASL office to choose a pediatra:

  • the carta d’identità (identity card) and codice fiscale (fiscal code/social security number) of the mother or father;
  • the birth certificate or a autocertificazione (self-declaration) signed by one of the parents;
  • the child’s codice fiscale (fiscal code/social security number).

The choice of the pediatra takes place at the same ASL office as the one for choosing a medico di base. An ASL staff member will provide a list of names of pediatra from which you can choose. The pediatra, like the medico di base, must  be located near where you live.

What is the pediatra for?

The pediatra cares for children. You should see a pediatra when your child is sick or to discuss problems about your child’s health. The pediatra:

  • sees children
  • follows the growth of children
  • prescribes medications, diagnostic exams and appointments with specialists
  • provides information about vaccines
  • advises when it is necessary to be admitted to the hospital
  • prepares certificates

The medico di famiglia and pediatra have work hours. This means you cannot see them when you would like, but only on the days and hours that they work.  

What happens when you are not feeling well and the medico di base is not working? For example, when one feels sick during the night or on weekends? 

At this point, the Guardia Medica should be called. The Guardia Medica is a doctor that substitutes the medico di famiglia or pediatra when they are not working, especially during the night, on weekends and on holidays.

The Guardia Medica should be called for care or medication that is urgent, but not serious enough to go to the pronto soccorso (emergency room). 

The Guardia Medica is free of charge for those who are registered with the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). It is not necessary to go to the ASL to choose a Guardia Medica. You simply call the Guardia Medica’s phone number or go directly to the Guardia Medica office. The Guardia Medica will see you at  home if you are not well and cannot move.

In some areas there may not be a Guardia Medica service. Please check the local ASL website or on the internet to check if this service is available. Search Guardia Medica + the name of the city where you live.

The Pronto Soccorso is part of the hospital where you go if you have an urgent and serious health problem or healthcare emergency.

Assistance at the Pronto Soccorso is free of charge for everyone, including Italian and foreign citizens and, even without valid documents.

It is important to know that one should go to the Pronto Soccorso only in specific cases:

  • If you are very sick and feeling very different than usual
  • If you are pregnant and not feeling well
  • If you had an accident at work
  • If a small child is not well
  • If you are not able to speak to your family doctor or to the Guardia Medica.

Do not go to the Pronto Soccorso if your health problem is not urgent. When you get to the Pronto Soccorso they will ask questions to understand the situation. On the basis of the situation they will provide you with a color code which helps identify how serious the situation is:

Red Code

The situation is very critical and requires immediate attention.

Yellow Code

The situation is critical and needs to be treated soon. 

Green Code

The situation is not urgent and can wait until more serious situations are treated.

White Code

The situation is not urgent. Anyone who is assigned with a white code must wait until all the urgent situations have been treated. In fact, a white code is a problem that could have been resolved by your medico di base or by the guardia medica.

Do not go to the pronto soccorso if you do not have an urgent problem. In fact, if you do go to the  Pronto Soccorso for a problem that is not serious and you are given a white code you will have to pay a ticket, which is a small tax of about 25 euro.

If you are very sick and you are not sure what to do, you can call 118, the emergency number. This number is free of charge from both fixed phone and mobile phone lines. When you call, the operator who answers will ask some questions to determine how to assist you. 

If the situation is serious the operator will send an ambulance with either a doctor or a nurse to accompany you to the hospital.

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