by Melinda Gallo

No system is a good system

I met up with my friend Yoshie as she went to her doctor's office (which is around the corner from our apartment). I'm just about to get my tessera all'ASL (Italian national health plan card) and I wanted to see what her doctor was like before I pick her. In Italy, you have to pick a doctor who will be your "family doctor".

Yoshie had to go and pick up a prescription for her partner who was home with a headache and fever. She spoke to the doctor on the phone earlier that morning and the prescription was supposed to be on the table waiting for her. But it wasn't.

When we arrived, there were about 10 people there already. "Chi č l'ultima a vedere la dottoressa T.?" (Who is the last one to see Dr. T.?) Yoshie asked as she walked in. Each person stated who they were after and we found out that we were after a guy who didn't say anything.

So, we stood there and chatted while her turn came up. Each time someone came in, the same question was asked. "Sono dopo di lui." (I'm after him) Yoshie said when asked who was next.

Two Australian women walked in and wanted to see the doctor. But, since there's no receptionist, I decided to chime in and help them out. I asked them what they wanted and the woman responded sarcastically, "To see a doctor." "OK, there are two, so you can go see either one, but you're after this man. Just watch him and when he comes out, you go in." I figured the woman would know that I'm American (or at least that my English was good enough to understand everything...even words said under her breath).

Then, I remembered that they don't have a tessera. I asked one of the Italian women if this straniera (foreigner) could see the doctor without a tessera. The woman told me that maybe they should go to the pronto soccorso (emergency room) or the hospital. As I was about to tell the two Australians, the woman said, "Se aspettano il medico, basta pagare...allora va bene!" (If they wait for the doctor, they'll just need to pay...so it's OK!) We laughed. Of course, if you pay the doctor, he/she'll see you with pleasure. "Forse la dottoressa le passa davanti a tutti noi!" (Maybe the doctor will let them pass before all of us!), another girl said. We all burst out laughing.

Another woman came in and asked who was next to see Dr. M. and complete havoc erupted again. The two Australian women tried to tell the woman that they were next, but couldn't respond to the new woman's question. They kept telling her, "We don't care which doctor it is, we're after him." The Italian woman was thoroughly confused. How can they not know which doctor? Another woman and I counted the patients in the waiting rooms to find out who was going to see which doctor and figured out that it might be faster for them to see Dr. M. instead of Dr. T. So, they were still after the man I pointed out initially.

The Australian women made many comments and mentioned how ridiculous this system was. I could understand that it seems chaotic with no receptionist or waiting list, but I thought it was actually pretty great to be able to see a doctor the same day by just going to his/her office. If I didn't know better, I would've gone to the emergency room. Most likely, the two women saw the doctor, got a prescription, and went happily on their way in under an hour and spent less than $50 (USD). I would consider that a luxury!

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