Taking care of healthcare, or Basic facts about healthcare in the Czech Republic
Medical insurance is one of the prerequisites for getting a Czech student visa. However, many often stop at getting an insurance card when dealing with the local healthcare system. Alexandra Baranova, author of the GoStudy blog, explains what a foreigner should be ready for when it comes to healthcare.
According to the statistics, news reports on medical discoveries and reviews from patients, the Czech healthcare system is one of the best in the world. Czech doctors deal with all kinds of medical problems, including complex chronic and congenital diseases that may require surgery. The local mineral spring culture is also worth a mention - tourists from all over the world visit the famous Czech mineral spas (cz. lázně).
There is also a separate medical insurance system for Czech citizens; essentially, it's the same as the one for foreigners, except it requires monthly payments instead of a single payment for a set period and may end up costing much more.
If you don't have any serious ailments, then your insurance card will probably spend most of the time in the folder with the other documents until the next visa extension. Still, since nobody is totally safe from flu or food poisoning, it's better to know some nuances about how the Czech medicine functions in practice in advance.
A foreigner who lives in the Czech Republic must have an umbrella policy issued by a Czech insurance company. There are several insurance companies offering umbrella policies to foreigners, some of the most popular ones are: MAXIMA pojišťovna, a.s., Slavia pojišťovna, a.s., Pojišťovna VZP, a.s. An annual insurance policy for foreigners costs around €400.
Treat all current ailments at home
Before moving to the Czech Republic, it's better to go through a complete medical check and take care of any existing dental cavities, sinus infections or sprains in your home country. This way, you'll be sure your health won't let you down upon arrival and you'll be spared from jumping from doctor to doctor with an interpreter.
If you do have any serious conditions that may worsen and put your life at risk at any moment, then you should pay extra to translate all the necessary documents, such as case history, doctors' opinions and results of relevant medical examinations, and be fully prepared.
A foreigner who lives in the Czech Republic must always carry a Czech medical insurance card.
Prepare in advance
Once you've bought a medical insurance, find a list of medical institutions that collaborate with your insurance company (you can find it on the company's website), print it and put it somewhere, where it's visible. Look through the list and highlight the clinics, hospitals and GP consultation rooms that are the closest to your place of residence - trust me, a fever or a runny nose will make even that much harder to do, not to mention crawling halfway across the city to get to a doctor.
You can also call a toll free number of your insurance company at any time: the company representative will help you choose the clinic you can visit under your insurance policy.
If the doctor you've chosen works with your insurance company, then there are two possible scenarios: either they draw an invoice for the treatment to your insurance company (in this case, you won't need to pay anything straight away) or you'll have to pay for the treatment on the spot yourself and then make an insurance claim to your insurance company. In case of the latter, you'll also need to append the original copy of the doctor's opinion, written-out prescriptions and the corresponding receipts from the pharmacy and send it to the relevant address alongside the filled-in claim request. All of the documents must be original copies.
Be aware that healthcare in the Czech Republic is not cheap: an ambulance call and a simple IV may cost up to several thousand korunas. Due to that, it's better to use the clinics that accept your insurance policy.
Call the ambulance only in emergencies
As for ambulances, in the Czech Republic it is not customary to call an ambulance at the first signs of illness, as in other countries. Therefore, even if a particularly nasty case of the flu gets the best of you, you will still have to drag yourself to the doctor for a prescription and, if necessary, a sick leave.
However, if your condition is serious and does justify calling a doctor, you'll have to call the ambulance. But don't expect anyone to come at short notice: first, the operator will have to get all the details about the patient's current state. And if they consider it a non-emergent case, you may even be denied an ambulance.
I'm sorry, I had a fever
In the Czech Republic, it's not common to come in to work or university when you're sick and can infect others; instead, it's very normal to visit a doctor and spend a week or two at home if necessary. That being said, skipping work or classes without a doctor's note can cause trouble.
Foreign students must be aware that they have been granted entry into the country for education purposes and therefore must attend classes (and in case of language courses, the Czech Ministry of the Interior requires attendance of at least 80% of the classes). Absence will only be justified if you hand in a medical note.
Because of that, if you feel like you might be falling ill, it's better to visit a doctor straight away. Also remember: nobody will give you a sick note after the fact!
Find doctors you can trust
Just like with other health specialists, it's better to take your time to find "go-to" doctors you can fully trust once you're in the Czech Republic (even if that means paying them yourself without relying on the insurance company).
There are two good reasons for that. First, if a doctor treats you regularly and knows well not only your medical history but also how your body reacts to various medications, the chances of you getting treated - and not crippled - grow tenfold. Second, a well-known patient may get certain benefits - say, a discount for an examination or a medical note for a specific day (see above).
You can find the right doctor on https://www.znamylekar.cz/, where you can also read patient reviews and make an appointment.
A 24-hour pharmacy is common in some countries, but rare in Europe - most pharmacies are only open until 19:00.
A guaranteed 24-hour pharmacy is one that is located on the hospital premises, but there may not be one nearby, so it is better to make sure that you always have painkillers, antipyretics and activated charcoal in your first aid kit. Also keep in mind that many medications that are freely available in Ukraine may require a prescription from a specific doctor in the Czech Republic.
Mariánské Lázně, Františkovy Lázně and other lázně
Lastly, since you're in the Czech Republic, don't underestimate the local mineral spas we've mentioned before. Consider visiting one over a weekend or a holiday and spending getting a little healthy "me" time there - but first check with your "go-to" doctor. Even a simple water treatment with the right mineral water is said to do wonders and greatly improve your overall health.