Yes, this short guide is about your access to healthcare in Portugal. Where do you start? What are your eligibilities? What are the magic tools you should have in your toolbox when trying to get medical care? It’s all here. If something is missing, call us, give us your feedback, and make us better!
The easiest way to perform blood tests in Portugal is through one of the many private laboratories widely spread across the country.
Most of the labs work with insurers and even with the national health system (aka, Serviço Nacional de Saúde/SNS).
You will need to have a medical referral for the required blood work. If the referral is from your family practitioner (médico de família) in the public sector, then the tests will be done almost or completely free of charge. In case you will be using your private insurance a co-payment of about 1.5 euro/ test will be charged.
When talking about client experience in healthcare we are referring to the hall journey of a client and mainly to “how did we make our patient feel”.
It might happen that due to language barriers or some cultural differences, your experience with the Portuguese system would be less than excellent. No worries, we are here to help you overcome these obstacles.
In general, the level of all medical professionals in Portugal is high (see Quality).
Many physicians are working both in public and private sectors, hence being very busy. Still, they manage to assure an equally high level of skills in both public and private facilities.
Doctors in Portugal are often referred to as “gods” (i.e., never accessible and you must always do what they say, not very available to discuss treatment options and others’ opinions, etc.). Our mission is to find those who would talk to our clients on eye level - in English!
These would be considered as preexisting (to your adherence to insurance plan) conditions and in most cases would be excluded from the coverage of your policy.
Please remember: a preexisting condition doesn’t mean you cannot have private insurance; it means that a specific condition would not be covered by the policy.
When asking for a proposal from an insurance company, make sure you have a professional (we would advise medical) consultation. Understanding the future implications of exclusions is of great importance!
Regardless of the insurer's approach to preexisting conditions, the public institutions will always treat all your needs.
One of the biggest problems of the Portuguese medical system is the simple fact that more than 1 million Portuguese do not have access to a family practitioner.
When it comes to simple, almost everyday needs for medical advice, chronic prescription medicines, preventative care, referrals, etc., many are seeking for solutions elsewhere.
Most of the prescribed medications widely used by patients are available in Portugal.
The name might be different or even the commercial dosage might change. Yet, the needed medication is almost always available. The prices of medicines are quite low, and chronic treatment (when prescribed through the national health system / SNS) is either free or sold for a symbolic price.
Be advised that some very specific medications are only available through the SNS.
The reason why you are reading this list.
Although Portuguese medical professionals are great, the public healthcare system is, unfortunately, overwhelmed.
Whatever insurance you would choose to have, be sure to understand what it is that you have adhered to. What does the policy cover? Do you have waiting periods? What are the exclusions? These are crucial if you want to make the best use of your insurance and not end up paying out of pocket money for medical services.
We advise you to have your “client profile” before looking for insurance proposals. That exercise might help you understand the balance between your expectations from the insurance, the coverage provided, and your financial investment. We’ll be happy to create your profile together with you.
Joining a “health plan” is what you can do if you do not want to spend money on medical insurance.
Portugal offers a very wide variety of “health plans”, but if choose to do so, remember that all these plans provide you with is only a certain discount in certain clinics. You will still be paying out of pocket.
These are the tools you’ll need when interacting with health providers / pharmacies / insurers:
· Serenity’s phone number: +351 930 422 191.
· NIF / Número de Identificação Fiscal – as you know, nothing happens in Portugal without your NIF.
· Número de Utente. You’ll need that for any appointment in the public system, for getting vaccinated, for having your prescription filled (even by a private service), or for when buying medication from a pharmacy.
· Your medical insurance card, or at least your policy number.
· Photo ID.
· Serenity’s checklist for your appointment (our professional inputs for the consultation / exam).
When using public medical providers be prepared to wait quite a lot.
Here are some official data (information from 2019):
· Average waiting time for a triage nurse in primary care setup: 14 days.
· Average waiting time for a specialist consultation: 83 days.
· Waiting time for elective surgery: might be more than a year.
Portugal still does not have a unified medical record. Hence, your medical history will be registered separately in every hospital/clinic you might attend.
Some private networks have an application where you can see your medical history (yet, you’ll have your file divided between 2, 3, or 4 apps). Please be aware of this fact and if possible save your medical documents in an orderly manner.
Three magical words meaning “user number”. That is your registration number with the SNS / Serviço Nacional de Saúde, the National Health Service. Having this number and being dully registered opens the doors to the complete use of the Portuguese public system for your medical needs.
Only thing you will regret… is not having known about our services before.
Portugal has a wide range of private clinics, hospitals, and diagnostic facilities. Many of them will work with your insurance, but please remember: the fact that the medical facility works with several insurances does not mean that the doctor you are about to see is working with your specific insurance.
Make sure to verify these technicalities when scheduling.
Quality of medical care. Portugal is ranked 12th-15th on the international scale of medical quality. These are very good news: it means the doctors you are going to meet are well trained and updated!
According to Serenity’s quality grading system, the reception of a medical facility is the bottleneck of many processes.
Bear in mind your experience in a medical facility in Portugal may be different from what you're used to: not all reception attendants speak English, they're usually not very quick and maybe not as friendly as you're used to. This, however, is more noticeable in the public sector. Nothing personal, it’s just the way things work.
Serenity is your go-to company when it comes to navigating healthcare in Portugal.
Whether it is a matter of clinical decision making, having reliable advice regarding your medical condition, or navigating your way through the labyrinth of the Portuguese health system – the only number you’ll have to remember is Serenity’s number.
Trauma, accidents, or emergency. Trauma cases, accidents, and any other emergency situations will be fully treated by the nearest hospital (usually a public one). Emergencies will always be treated without delays, regardless of your registration status with the National Health System (see Número de Utente). For the record, the national emergency number is 112.
Your card is your gateway to the private clinics or hospitals that work with your insurance. You are free to schedule an appointment without the need for a medical referral. Referrals will be needed, though, for laboratory tests, imaging studies, and medical procedures.
Please remember, that every utilization is counted and “deducted” from your insured capital. Make sure you don’t find yourself without “insurance credit” in the middle of the insurance period.
Here are some benchmark values of the healthcare market:
· Private appointment: €90 - €150
· Private CT scan: €250 - €350
· Private MRI: €650
· Reasonable medical insurance policy (above the age of 50): €150 - €250
· Monthly fee for a “health plan” (which, in practical terms, gives you some discounts): €3 - €25
· Monthly fee for Serenity’s Case Management membership: up to €15!
X-Ray or other imaging studies can be performed in public or private hospitals or specific imaging private clinics. All imaging examinations must be prescribed by a physician.
When undergoing an imaging exam, please remember to ask for the disk (that would contain the images of your exam) and ask when you should expect the results. Sometimes clinics send the results only to the referring physician, but you should insist on having the study and the report for your own records.
You and your family are our focus. We aren’t an insurer, nor are we a broker. We work in a patient-centric way, looking only toward what’s best for our clients.
Zero commercial affinity with any of our service providers.
Nevertheless, we have several connections and partners that we work with (and we trust) to help you in the best possible way.