Home visit doctors: SOS Médecins start 24-hour strike today in France

The at-home medical service is protesting at low rates paid to its doctors. We explain how this service works in France and when residents might use it

27 September 2021

A spokesperson said home visits are essential for patients such as the elderly and single parents Pic: Gligatron / Shutterstock

By Joanna York and Hannah Thompson

The at-home, 24-hour medical service SOS Médecins will be suspended for 24 hours today (from 8:00 September 27 to 8:00 September 28) as workers go on strike.

The strike aims to “alert people in France to the fact that the service providing home visits could disappear” if pay for doctors who make home visits is not increased, la fédération d’associations de médecins libéraux SOS Médecins said in a statement.

SOS Médecins was founded in 1966. It provides at-home medical care via its helpline advisors and by providing phone consultations and home visits from doctors. 

It is designed for urgent and/or out-of-hours situations, where patients cannot easily get to a doctor, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Its 1,300 doctors make around three million home visits each year in France.

The group said that all services would be suspended during the strike, which was called in early September. 

It said: “For more than 15 years the funds allocated to home visits have been insufficient to meet demand among people in France and the aging population.”

General secretary of the group, Dr Serge Smagja, told France Info: “Call-out fees for a home visit are €10, and at evenings and weekends it is €3.50 [on top of the consultation cost]. 

“How can you encourage a doctor to make home visits, especially in big cities where there is traffic and it’s difficult to park, when they will be paid €3.50 for a consultation? Nobody wants to do it.”

Temporary pay increase during health crisis

This comes following pay evaluations during the Covid health crisis, during which the government raised the rate for doctors visiting an elderly person at home from €35 to €57.60.

SOS Médecins called for the change to be made permanent, and called for the rate for visits to the elderly to be €56.

However, in July this year, the Assurance maladie agreed that “long visits” to patients aged 80 and over would be charged at €70, but only if they were made by GPs to their regular patients.

Dr Smagja said that if pay for SOS Médecin’s workers does not improve “the service may disappear” altogether.

“We fear [losing] this medical service, which to us seems obviously essential for patients who cannot leave their homes, such as elderly people, single parents, and people in pain or having trouble breathing,” he said.

Dr Jean-Christophe Masseron, president of SOS Médecins, said: “If nothing is done, the public will lose these home visits.”

What is SOS Médecins?

It is a home call-out service for people who cannot travel to a doctor or hospital (or are not yet sure if they need to). It also offers medical advice. 

The phone line is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

It processes 2.6 million home visits and 6.3 million consultation calls per year.

For the at-home service, you can simply call.

It also offers a small number of on-site doctor appointments (where the patient travels to the doctor as normal, or has a video conferencing call with them). This is organised by “associations”, which are located all over France. 

You can request one of these appointments by selecting the nearest association to you on a map, and make an appointment by following the steps.

How do you call them? 

The number is 3624.

There is also a smartphone app, available on iOS (Apple) and Google Play (Android), through which you can call or request an at-home visit.

What situation can you call them in?

Any situation in which you need medical assistance or advice, but the situation is not ‘bad enough’ to require an immediate emergency ambulance or other emergency service. 

This might mean a situation such as, if your child wakes with a fever in the middle of the night and you are not sure what to do; you are struggling to breathe in the early hours, or you have a medical complaint that you need some advice to manage, and are not sure if you need more urgent assistance.

The SOS Médecins service will assess the severity of your situation and decide on the next steps.

What should I prepare before I call? 

Make sure you have to hand: Your telephone number, the patient’s name and age, the reason for the call, and the exact address for a possible house call.

What happens if I need a doctor to come to my home? 

The service will assess your situation and decide if a doctor needs to visit. If yes, they will arrange for this after the phone call. 

You must stay at the address given while waiting for the doctor to arrive. How fast the doctor arrives depends on availability and factors such as traffic.

While waiting, you should prepare as much medical information as possible, such as any details of prescription medication, health records, or any other information that could be useful.

Does it cost anything? 

The call costs the price of a normal phone call, plus a charge of €0.15 per minute.

If you need a doctor, you may need to pay the call-out and medical consultation charge, which will vary (but usually costs between €35-€70 including travel for the doctor). 

The cost depends on region, time of day, age of the patient, length of the appointment, and the medical complaint. 

Your charge will then be reimbursed via your Carte vitale and mutuelle healthcare (insurance) system around a week later. If you do not have this, or are not registered yet, then you will have to assume the cost yourself.

Read more: Digital carte Vitale: Where, how and when is this used in France?

Do I have to speak French to use it? 

Ideally, but you can request to speak to an English-speaking doctor when you call. This is, of course, dependent on availability, but the service does aim to provide English-speaking services where possible.

Does SOS Médecins replace other emergency numbers?

Short answer: No. 

In France, there are several emergency numbers depending on the service you need. These are 17 for police, 18 for the pompiers, and 15 for the SAMU emergency medical service. 

You can also dial the European emergency number 112.

However, SOS Médecins is not intended to replace the SAMU. Instead, it is a service to call if you need urgent medical attention or advice, but are not ‘bad enough’ to require an emergency ambulance or a hospital visit.

If you do need to go to hospital, the SOS Médecins service will refer you.

What if I need the SOS Médecins service during the 24 hour strike? 

The service is advising everyone to call 15 in case of emergency during the strike.

Related stories

Urgent calls for single French emergency number

Finding a doctor who speaks English 

Making 112 the only emergency number in France would be ‘an error’

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