Health Care in Central Italy: the GP’s Office

The doctor's office

The GP’s office in the village is the center of the universe. Here, anyone who takes a prescription medicine provided by the national health is required to see the doctor once a month to get a refill. In this way, the medical system ensures that any obvious problems can be identified quickly. The visiting dottoressa comes for an hour or two weekdays (except, mysteriously, not the day before a public holiday) and those who see her regularly memorize the schedule, which is different depending on the day of the week.

In the winter, the waiting room is full of coughs and colds, but in summer it’s the social salon of San Terenziano. The coffee bars are a distant second because no women hang out there, which diminishes the value of the gossip significantly. The stone building dedicated to the office visits is near the soccer field and is either hot (summer) or freezing (winter). There are various chairs (rattan, plastic, fabric) lined up around the walls, as well as a tattered few magazines that come free in the newspapers in case anyone is foolish enough to think celebrity news is as important as local chitchat.

People start to arrive more than an hour before the dottoressa is expected, despite knowing that invariably she will be at least thirty minutes late coming from the other villages she visits. It is expected that new arrivals will first wish everyone buongiorno or buona sera before seeking a pause in the conversation to inquire “Chi e’ l’ultimo?” Who is last in line? Then the talking resumes, the loud voices of farmers ricocheting off the plaster walls and tile floors, punctuated by the quieter murmur and laughter of the women.

Try to play solitaire on your phone to pass the time and you will find yourself unable to concentrate in the din and, eventually, eavesdropping on tales of someone’s genius grandchild’s latest wonder, the upcoming olive harvest and the like. The best stories are about the dynastic marriages (the grocery store owner’s daughter to the butcher’s son, the hardware store heiress to the scion of the stone and marble quarry) with honeymoons to Bali, Las Vegas, Hong Kong or all of the above.

Of course, we’re all here waiting for our scripts or flu shots or referrals to a specialist, but we leave feeling a part of the village. After we see the dottoressa, we follow the other patients to the pharmacy across the square, where the waiting line provides another opportunity to pick up the threads of the various conversations that began at the doctor’s office.


Umbria has been rated 9.6 out of ten for the quality of its health care in the OECD Regional Well Being survey and in the top 7% of the sixty-five countries evaluated, scoring higher even than California, which tallied 7.8. The health care of Italy as a country is ranked third in the 65 countries studied, after Japan and Switzerland.

Good health and good gossip. What a great combination.