The French pharmacy is so much more than a place to take your medicines. Here are 11 things you might not know about pharmacies in France.
A cornerstone of France’s valued healthcare system, not to mention the beauty industry, the pharmacy is included in the basic facilities you will find in every town and even in some quite small villages. In fact, there are some 23,000 pharmacies across the country.
In some parts, pharmacies are the only way that residents can go for medical advice if there is no doctor’s office next to them and, in fact, many French people will talk to their chemist before going to their doctor.
Laws regulate where you can buy pills and medical equipment and most of these can only be prepared and sold by a chemist. Pharmacists are also authorized to prepare medicines for specific conditions or for other medical institutions such as hospitals.
Pharmacists in France are also trained to recognize certain mushrooms, and you can take your mushrooms along to the pharmacy for them to check your collection for any poisonous varieties with no further cost.
There is always an open pharmacy in the area you stay or maybe a block away. All the pharmacies must be open 24 hours a day at least once per week or per month in order to serve all the patients’ needs after midnight.
Only chemists can own a pharmacy in France and ownership is restricted to more than one pharmacy, which is why there are no chains.
‘Parapharmacies’ are sometimes autonomous but are usually combined within a pharmacy and they sell anything that doesn’t need a prescription, from toothbrushes and cleansing lotions to pills made entirely of herbal ingredients such as plants or roots.
Homeopathy is much more recognised in France than it is in the UK and French pharmacies are treasure places of homeopathic treatments In French pharmacies, you’ll find an extensive variety of beauty and skincare products from brands such as Nuxe, Vichy, Avène and Bioderma, and at cheaper prices than in the UK.
The pharmacy is where you pick up medication or medical equipment prescribed by a doctor. It is also where you hand in your brown feuilles de remboursement, the forms that allow you to take the cost of medications back via social security. Although the pharmacist is usually capable of advising which medicine you need, he or she may well suggest you go to the doctor in order to get a prescription. Most drugs are entirely or partially free with a prescription. This payment method works through what is called the carte vitale system – essentially a national health card carrying your personal details, which is the gateway to the French health care system. It is arguably the first administrative piece of paper you should have if moving to France. In the pharmacy, simply hand over the prescription and your carte vitale, and quite likely you won’t have to pay a penny. You may also be asked on the first visit to a pharmacy for details of your mutuelle – this is the top-up private insurance that most French people, and those living in France, take out to cover some, or all, of the remaining percentage to be paid for medicines and health care, or to pay for treatments that aren’t included in subsidized French health care. Details of your mutuelle are entered into the system and you won’t normally be asked for them again on following visits. You will pay up front any costs not covered by the state, and are repaid a few days later directly into your bank account by your mutuelle.
At the end of their studies, pharmacy students in France are given the title ‘Docteur en Pharmacie’ before taking an oath called le serment de Galien, inspired by the Hippocratic Oath. They can then work in a registered establishment.
There is very much an emphasis on natural ingredients used in beauty products sold in pharmacies, and the health element of these products is important to the point that there’s a ministerial decree in France that sets out which ones can be sold in pharmacies.
Medicines are strongly subsidized by the French welfare state, which some believe leads to an over-readiness on both the part of patients to ask for them, and doctors to prescribe them. Pharmacists see their role at the end of the line as one of controlling supply and keeping a check on patients’ use of medicines – as mentioned above, their relationship role often means they are better placed to spot developing patterns or problematic side effects.The French state sets the price of prescription medicines, and at the start of 2015 raised the payment made to pharmacists per box of medicine from €0.53 to €0.80, rising to €1 from 2016. in return, drugstores have agreed to aim to rise the sale of generic products, as opposed to branded products, to 85%, and to lower the margins they take on specific medicines sold (these follow a sliding scale downwards according to the price of the product). They have also assumed to add instructions relevant to separate patients on how to administer the medicines or drugs, should patients have concerns.With the French government aiming to reduce the health care cost, which will unavoidably have a knock-on squeeze on medical supplies, the FSPF (Fédération des Syndicats Pharmaceutiques de France) and also dentists ( geoallo ) were happy to reduce limits – which are greater for more expensive medicines likely to be more widely hit by cuts – for the guarantee of a higher set payment on all medical products.When it comes to pricing non-medical products, pharmacies are free to set their own margins and therefore have more control over potential revenues from this sales platform.