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The standard of healthcare in Greece is generally high, although there is some variation between the mainland and many of the country’s smaller islands, and lower spending on healthcare since the country’s financial crisis has had a negative impact.
Greece operates a National Health System (ESY) which aims to ensure free and equitable access to quality health services for all residents. The system is made up of a mix of public and private health service providers, which are broadly divided into primary, secondary and tertiary tiers of service delivery.
Generally, expat residents and their families have access to free or low-cost public healthcare if they contribute to the Social Insurance Institute (IKA). IKA is a public insurance company that oversees Greece’s social security. As soon as expats start working, they will need to apply for national health insurance, which is administered by IKA, and they will be given a social security card known as AMKA. Medical care by IKA-approved practitioners is generally free, although patients are required to pay a fee for prescribed medicines. Other benefits include free laboratory services, maternity care, medical-related appliances or devices and emergency transportation. Other European Union nationals can also avail of free healthcare benefits provided they have their European Health Card, which entitles the bearer to public health cover for a limited period of time. Retirees from EU countries who are receiving their pension from their home country, and who intend to settle in Greece, are also entitled to state health benefits.
Primary healthcare is provided through ESY. This includes rural health centres and surgeries, as well as public hospital outpatient departments. Other public primary healthcare is provided through health centres operated by social insurance funds, local authorities and municipalities. According to the type of services they offer, Greek hospitals are categorised as either general or specialised. General hospitals include multi-specialty departments across most disciplines of medicine. Specialised hospitals are referral centres usually for a single specialty.
Healthcare services are also extensively provided by the private sector. This includes physicians in private practice who are under contract with one or more insurance funds, other autonomous physicians in private practice as well as physicians who work in diagnostic centres, laboratories and private hospital outpatient departments.
Private medical facilities are generally less affected by the country’s economic situation and have better facilities with newer equipment. Doctors and nurses in private hospitals are also more likely to speak and understand English. However, treatment in private facilities is not covered by IKA and is expensive. Many Greeks take out private health insurance to cover any medical expenses not covered by the public health scheme. In addition, expats who prefer to have access to private healthcare in Greece should have comprehensive private health insurance.
Medicines and pharmacies
Pharmacies are plentiful in Greece, especially in the main cities, and are generally a good first line of defense against illness. They are normally marked by a green cross against a white background. Pharmacies are usually well-stocked and Greek pharmacists are knowledgeable, with many able to speak English. Most medication is easily accessible, although more specialised forms may only be available from hospitals.
Pharmacies are generally open between 8am and 1pm, and 5pm to 8.30pm. If a pharmacy is closed, there will be a sign on the door with the details of the nearest open pharmacy.
Public ambulances services, known as EKAV, are widely available in larger cities, and response times are generally good, but access may be restricted on some islands and in rural areas. In this instance, private ambulances, EKAV helicopters and taxis may be legitimate alternatives for emergencies in more remote areas.
Expats can dial 166 in the case of an emergency. Operators may not be able to speak English, so expats may wish to rather dial the general European emergency number 112 for an English operator.