The Diseased Greece

Here’s a bit of a Danish view on Greece these days. This blog is based on my own experience and on the Danish article “Det syge Grækenland” by Ole Ryborg.

I got the idea for this blog when I yesterday went to the pharmacy to buy some prescriped medicine, and noticed their huge LACK of knowledge on and awareness of the importance of giving their costumers proper advice in how to use the medicine they sell!

First of all the people in the pharmacy should, in my opinion, be obligated (as they are in Denmark) to ask their costumers, as a minimum, if they have ever used this medicine before, and in such case if they know how to use it. If they do, then fine, but if they don’t, then they should in a more or less detailed and proper way inform the costumer exactly how to use it to avoid any incorrect dosage that in worst case scenario could cause great health problems rather than curing you.

In my case: I enter the pharmacy (one where I’ve been several times before), they know that I’m a foreigner and that I am not able to speak or read Greek, ok this isn’t the biggest problem, it’s my own fault, BUT: I handed them the reciept from the doctor and they gave me the medicine, told me the price and bye-bye.

OKAY? I must say that I was and still am shocked by this behavior. Of course I asked them “excuse me, but ehm, exactly HOW do I use this medicin?”, so first the woman in the pharmacy looked a bit weird at me kinda confused, she didn’t really know what to answer so she referred me to her male co-worker. Great. So I asked him “when, how and how often should I take this?” and I then got the answer “in the morning for, ehm, 20 days.”
Well okay. So I left, fine. He didn’t tell me if it was important to take this in connection with a meal or if it is of no importance at all, if I  should I take it with water, milk…?
Earlier experince and rational sense, though, tells me that, as this is a vitamin supplement, it actually IS important to take this with a meal. Lucky for me that I’m aware of this. But imagine how they in general do NOT give their costumers any information!

SO maybe I’m just a stupid or weird foreigner expecting too  much of the Greeks, because I apparently am not used to how things work here, so maybe I should just get my ass moving back to Denmark where I came from, huh? and let the Greeks mind their own business.
BUT THERE IS NO EXCUSE, really, this lack of information is extremely irresponsible and wrong, and I feel obligated to spread awareness about this.

The “funny” thing is the connection between the lack of information and  thus knowledge or the other way around and the fact that Greece spends more money on medicines than ANY other country in the Western World.

To give an example Greece last year (2011) spent 30 mio euros on medicines, which is 2,4% of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which is twice as much money spent on medicines as what Great Britain spent.
When the Greeks spend so much money on medicines one could be lead to think that the Greeks are very aware of people in need of medicin and have a very well functioning health system.
THEY DON’T. In reality it’s a well known fact for the Greek people that if you show up at the hospital and want treatment, the thing that gets you through isn’t your healthcare insurance, but φακελάκι” (fakellaki), which is more or less the Greek word for small envelope, I think you’re able to figure out what that means!

When a survey on the subject was done, asking the Greek citizens of their awareness of corruption in their country, 98% of the Greeks answered that corruption is widespread in Greece!

If the Greek health service would be effective, then it wouldn’t be such a big problem. The cause of the problem isn’t that Greeks are more ill than the rest of Europe’s population, ’cause they’re not. The thing is that the Greek health system is controlled by a powerful drug lobby, which has forced the government to buy the most expensive products. Because this indeed is money to be made for doctors, hospitals, and people who are re-exporting the subsidized medication.

No wonder the Greeks are having a crisis.


4 responses to “The Diseased Greece

  • myystt

    Hello. Generally I agree with you. I would like however to point a common misconception about a minor issue. The notorious “φακελάκι” is illegal and health professionals that request it, do it in subtle ways, trying to collect as many of them as they can. This means you don’t have to give a “φακελάκι” if such was asked from you.
    I wrote this comment just to ensure that this practice will not keep spreading based on a misconception.
    Ciao.. 🙂

    • melissasofie

      Thank you for the comment, I’m not a pro in the greek healthcare system hehe 🙂 just got upset about my experience, and then I heard some from my greek acquaintances and read this article.
      And ofcourse it’s illegal, if it was legal it wouldn’t be corruption!
      I’m not writing that you are obligated to give a fakellaki, just that this would be rather advantageous!

  • Heidi @ homeingreece

    Wow, what an odd experience! I am sorry to read that you had such an experience. I come from the US, where I hope you never have to get medicine 😉 There, the person who gives you your medicine is not a pharmacist and is usually someone working for minimum wage with no training, at least in my experience. In Greece, pharmacists are actually the ‘front line’ of medical care. You can ask the pharmacist for free medical advice, simple diagnoses, etc. This is unheard of in the US, and Americans living in Greece LOVE Greek pharmacists for this reason! Greek doctors explain how to use the medicine, not the pharmacist, because the doctor is the one who decides the dosage, how often, etc. It is then written on the prescription and the pharmacist transcribes this information onto the packaging before giving the medicine to the customer. That is standard here – if you don’t know how to use a medicine, ask the prescribing physician, not the pharmacist. My experience with Greek pharmacists in the years I’ve been here has been wonderful, especially compared to American pharmacies where you are lucky if the pharmacist is even available to talk to upon request. I’ve been going to doctors and hospitals in Greece for years and my husband as well and neither of us has ever been asked to give a ‘fakelaki’ – we sometimes pay an official €5 fee although to be honest they don’t usually bother to collect it. I suppose that could be part of the problem.

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