Written for expat.rs by Nicholas Comrie
Going to the doctors can be daunting at the best of times, but doing so in a foreign country is an added worry. It is therefore worth bearing in mind a few pointers when it comes to going to the doctors in Serbia for the first time:
Might a pharmacy suffice?
If it isn’t too serious a medical complaint it may well be worth trying your local pharmacy (in Serbian – Apoteka). There are plenty of them around town, they generally are helpful and speak English and if you know what you need, you can acquire most medication without prescription. It is also worth noting that two pharmacies in the centre of Belgrade (one on the corner of Kneza Milosa and Kralja Milana, the other opposite the main railway station on Nemanjina) are open 24 hours.
Seek a doctor or clinic by recommendation
If you require the services of a doctor, ask Serbian or international friends or colleagues if they can recommend to you a good, English-speaking doctor or surgery. It is however quite possible that they don’t know of one.
If this is the case; or you are new to Serbia; the second option is to Ex-Pat’s directory of recommended doctor’s surgeries. This directory can be found by clicking on either of these links: Hospitals or Clinics. These surgeries have English-speaking doctors, although in some instances you may have to deal with doctors and nurses who speak little or no English. Such a language barrier can present problems, but not as significant as one would expect due to the universal nature of medical terminology.
The final option, if you are not happy consulting Zute Strane, is to ask your embassy for a recommended clinic. Embassies may well have differing recommendations, so try your embassy for consular medical advice.
The public healthcare option
You can receive public healthcare if your employer provides you with state health insurance. Healthcare cards are issued yearly, and Serbian employers are obliged to provide all full-time staff with this cover, although there can be an unwillingness to do so amongst certain employers. With this healthcare insurance card you are entitled to access state medical facilities and receive healthcare free of charge with some exceptions. The obvious benefit of state healthcare is the cost but standards and waiting times are preferable in the private sector. To access state medical care, ask your employer about your rights as regards public healthcare provision.
Booking an appointment
Once you have settled upon a surgery ring them up. Most receptionists speak English and if they don’t, they will find a colleague who does. It will be necessary for you to explain what is wrong with you to them and they will then recommend you see a specialist or general practitioner. Once a doctor has been assigned to you, the receptionist will give you an appointment time and date. Waiting times for private clinics are very short in Serbia and you should be able to see a doctor within two days of booking an appointment. Most also work weekends. It isn’t necessary for you to sign up as a patient of the surgery, simply turn up on the appointed day and give your name.
Quality of care
The Serbian medical profession has a respectable reputation internationally, but having said that, I would always recommend a trusted, private clinic. Standards at such institutions are higher than at state practices and conform to good European standards. Hygiene, professionalism and speed of care are all good, but it is worth considering that the more that you pay, the better the service. Also the more up-market the clinic, the higher the likelihood that doctors there will speak English.
Paying for your care
The cost of visiting the doctor obviously depends upon the care received, but be prepared to pay immediately after any visit with your credit card or cash. Medical bills vary from surgery to surgery and are dependent upon the medical complaint, but expect to pay up to 3000 dinars (35 Euros) in consultation fees, with prescriptions, tests and operations on top of that. Enquire with the surgery in advance as to how much care will cost so as not to be caught out or short. It is also advisable to keep receipts of all care given for insurance purposes.
Take a Serb
If you can, take a Serbian friend or colleague with you. They can help clear up any complications and assist with interpretation should the need arise.
If you follow these basic guidelines your first visit to the doctor should be made that little less painful, and you never know, you might even want to go there again.