Spain’s Healthcare System: What you need to know

Spain is a dream come true. Whether you want to explore the beaches of the Balearic Islands, walk the historic streets of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville, revel in the exquisite cuisine or simple enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, Spain has it all. With a wonderful weather all year round, an emphasis on work-life balance, and an affordable cost of living, Spain is now considered one of the top countries to live and work for expats.

Here I share important information about Spain’s Healthcare System to complement my prior post on Medical Licensure in Spain for US-Trained physicians.

Spanish Health Care System

Spain’s single-payer health care system is ranked seventh best in the world by the World Health Organization. Spain has the most efficient health system in Europe and is considered the healthiest country. Spain’s healthcare system offers universal health coverage as a constitutionally-guaranteed right and no out-of-pocket expenses — aside from prescription drugs. Patients do complain about the long wait to see specialists and to undergo certain procedures such as a knee replacement or cataract surgery. In terms of socio-economic development relative to other similar countries, the Spanish health system is generally comparable in almost all dimensions: population coverage, global equity, access equity, technical quality and economic efficiency.

Primary & Specialist Healthcare Services

Primary Healthcare Services are usually available within a 15-minute radius from any place of residence. The main facilities are the healthcare centers staffed by multidisciplinary teams comprising of general practitioners, pediatricians, nurses, administrative staff, and in some cases, social workers, midwives and physiotherapists. The principles of maximum accessibility and equity mean that community primary healthcare also provides home care, when necessary and promotes health and disease prevention.

Specialist care is provided in specialist care centers and hospitals in the form of outpatient and inpatient care. Patients having received specialist care and treatment are referred back to their primary healthcare doctor. The primary care doctor then assumes responsibility for any necessary follow-up treatment and care, ensuring the provision of continuous care under equitable conditions, irrespective of the patient’s place of residence and individual circumstances.

Private Healthcare

Private healthcare insurance for treatment at private hospitals and clinics is not widespread and mainly used to avoid the sometimes long waiting lists to see specialist doctors in the public healthcare system. Only around 10-20 % of the population has voluntary private insurance although some private services are contracted by the public sector. In Catalonia, due to historical reasons, there are a large number of non-profit, semi-public entities. Private healthcare companies often offer quicker service to patients but also value-added services such as private rooms, express mailing of test results and keeping patients informed via email and SMS messages.

Funding the Healthcare System

The Spanish healthcare system is principally funded through taxation. The country’s total healthcare expenditure, amounts to 88,828 million euro, which accounts for 8.5 percent of the GDP. Public healthcare expenditure accounts for 6.1 percent of GDP and represents an expense per inhabitant of 1,421 euro. For comparison, health care expenditure in the US accounts for 19.7% of the GDP, an expense of 12,530 USD per person. The Spanish government provides financial support to each region based on population and demographic criteria.

Dr. Bulbena Cabre is a US trained psychiatrist who is originally from Spain. She trained at New York Medical College, Yale University and at the Icahn school of Medicine at Mount Sinai and works as an attending psychiatrist in NYC. She has applied for her specialty recognition in Spain and hopes to receive final recognition in the coming months. 

If you want to move to Spain but don’t know where to start, sign up for a Guidance Session with Dr. Bulbena Cabre. She will show you the ropes! 

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