Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

This post is written in collaboration with Qare, a video consultation website in London, and is the second post of a new series on the differences between the French healthcare and the NHS. You can read the first post here:


I will always remember the day an American friend of mine started talking about her physician’s bedside manners. To cut a long story short, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I even thought that she was having an affair with her GP, which was a bit odd but hey, who was I to judge?

Turns out, she was having difficulties with her British doctor’s bedside manners. For those of you who, like me, might not know what bedside manners are, here is the definition:

“the way in which a doctor treats people who are ill, especially showing kind, friendly, and understanding behaviour.”

As for me, I feel like I need to come clean now: I thought that bedside manners were the way in which you behave after spending the night with someone. What can I say? I suppose that I remain very French.

More seriously, I think that the fact that so many of my French expat friends find it hard to adjust to a new system like the NHS comes down to bedside manners.

You see, in France, your GP will start with a little chat on your symptoms and medical history, and will examine you after. He/she will take your blood pressure, take your weight and sometimes your height, and you usually end up having to undress because he/she will need to listen to your heart/chest, look for a rash, etc…In short, you feel like you are actually interacting with your doctor.

Over here, in London, things are slightly different, and my GP spends most of his time behind his screen, without really looking at me, which I must admit I always find a bit intimidating. In my practice, it’s usually the nurse, not the GP, who takes the patients’ blood pressure. To make matters even worse, healthcare environments collude against attentiveness; there is the computer screen, the keyboard click, the translation of patient symptoms into understandable words, and of course the ten-minute countdown (it’s usually fifteen minutes in France). In the UK, you are supposed to book one consultation for each problem. As some problems might be correlated, I never understood how this was working, and I have always felt -rightly or wrongly, that this rule was essentially established to make GPs’ lives easier rather than to  help cure patients.  In short, I felt more listened to in France. It might be me: I need to feel acknowledged and unrushed to feel better. That said, I am fully aware that some will always see the doctor-patient exchange as a fuzzy addendum to ‘real medicine’.

The differences don’t end here. In France, we never leave the doctor’s surgery without a multiple prescription for drugs to treat even minor ailments. This is probably why we French are Europe’s champion medicine-takers. There are sprays and drops to squirt up the nostrils for a cold, suppositories for all sorts of complaints and treatments for such bizarre ailments such as heavy legs or heavy shoulders. It just never stops. If, like me, you hate to put any chemicals in your system, this is a complete and utter nightmare. I don’t want to take anything that don’t have a proven therapeutic value. And for the record I don’t like suppositories.

Things are different this side of the Channel. It is quite common to go back home, after seeing your GP, without a prescription. If you have caught a virus, for instance, you just have to rest and wait for it to go away. Medication is prescribed parsimoniously. In short, GPs don’t mollycoddle their patients, and frankly, I prefer it this way. To me, it makes more sense to let the body heal by itself.

In short, although both countries have a superb health system, the patient experience can vary a lot whether you are in France or in the UK. What about you? What are your experiences?