If you have a prescription from your doctor in Switzerland or need remedies for more everyday illnesses, you can find medicine at a Swiss pharmacy (Apotheke). Pharmacies are widespread in Switzerland and are an integral part of the Swiss healthcare system, providing a range of different services.
Pharmacies can be found in most large towns and cities and can be accessed by anyone in need. They can be easily identified by the green cross that is usually illuminated outside of the shop.
Types of Swiss pharmacy
Switzerland has a large number of different pharmacies that are open to the public. These can range from large pharmacies that offer a wide range of medicines, to simple drogeries and Chinese medical centres that offer herbal remedies.
Public pharmacy in Switzerland (Apotheke)
The most common type of pharmacy in Switzerland is the public pharmacy. These pharmacies are tasked with supplying prescriptions to patients. This type of pharmacy can traditionally be found in the centre of your local council (Gemeinde), or in the capital of your county (canton). Increasingly more public pharmacies offer other treatments that do not require a prescription, such as basic painkillers and herbal remedies.
Doctor’s pharmacy (Arzt- Apotheke)
As well as public pharmacies, many general practitioners in Switzerland have their own smaller pharmacies within their practices. This is often the case in small towns or villages that cannot support a full pharmacy. It is also common if the practice is in an area that has a high number of repeat prescriptions, such as medicine for people in old age. In order to use a doctor's pharmacy, you usually must be registered with the doctor in question.
Swiss chemists and herbal remedies in Switzerland
As of a 2009 referendum, all cantons include herbal remedies in the list of medicines covered by health insurance in Switzerland. According to a study by Swiss Medical Weekly, over half of Swiss citizens have used herbal remedies to treat illnesses. These herbal remedies can be purchased in drogeries.
Drogeries are common and can be found in many small towns across Switzerland. They do not supply prescriptions or other over-the-counter typical medicines. However, it is becoming increasingly common for Swiss pharmacies and drogeries to suggest herbal medicines to treat basic ailments.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
Another remedy that is seeing an increase in popularity is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). These can range from homeopathy, acupuncture, spa treatments, herbal medicines and dietary supplements. TCM locations can be found in major cities such as Zurich and Basel as well as in the suburbs of larger Swiss cities.
Filing a prescription in a Swiss pharmacy
In order to file a prescription in Switzerland, you must have a filled-out prescription slip. These must be filled out by your general practitioner or by a doctor to whom you have been referred for further treatment. You can then hand this slip over at any pharmacy you choose to receive your treatment or medication.
Who pays for medical prescriptions in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, the cost of prescriptions is traditionally shared between you and your health insurance provider. A typical health insurance policy requires you to pay a set amount before your insurance kicks in to cover the rest. For example, if you require a drug that costs 1.000 Swiss francs and have a policy excess of 200 Swiss francs, you would pay the first 200 Swiss francs, and the remaining 800 would be covered by your health insurance provider.
Ways of claiming medical prescriptions in Switzerland
In order to claim a prescription in Switzerland, you must be referred by your doctor and have a written prescription filled out for you. The process from this point depends on where your doctor is based.
Swiss medical prescriptions at a doctor’s pharmacy
If your general practitioner or doctor has a pharmacy based in their practice, they will refer you directly to the doctor's pharmacy. Then they will provide your prescription and any other medicines that you may require, along with instructions as to how to take your medicine.
Medical prescriptions in a standard pharmacy
If your surgery does not have an in-built pharmacy or your doctor's pharmacy does not have the medicine you need, you will be given a prescription slip to be given to whatever pharmacy you choose to go to. Once there, you will be given the prescription for the amount of medicine you require. This pharmacy will be where you obtain more medicine and will provide instructions as to how to take the medication.
How am I charged for prescription medicine in Switzerland?
If you are claiming a prescription through a doctor’s pharmacy, your prescription will be charged to your health insurance directly. If you are going to a standard pharmacy for a prescription, then you will be asked for your social security card. They will then register the card with the prescription and charge the health insurance provider directly.
Asking for a repeat prescription in Switzerland
Typically, Swiss doctors provide prescriptions for up to a year at a time. If you still require medication after the year has elapsed, your doctor will either extend your prescription directly with their in-house pharmacy or provide you with a written prescription that you can give to your local pharmacy.
Purchasing non-prescription medicine in Switzerland
In recent years, pharmacies in Switzerland have become more receptive to the concept of non-prescription medicine. If you are suffering from mild symptoms or have an illness that does not need a doctor’s appointment, there are some basic medicines that you can purchase over the counter. Examples include paracetamol, cetirizine and ibuprofen, among others. Whether or not you are able to purchase medicines is dependent on how the medicine is categorised.
Categories of Swiss medicine
All medicines that can be provided by pharmacies are categorised by their usage, strength and application. This is done by Swissmedic and tells pharmacies what they can and cannot give out without a prescription. You can find the category of any medicine in Switzerland by looking next to the barcode on its box.
Level A+ and A medicine in Switzerland
The category A+ is reserved for medicines that are considered to be highly addictive or narcotic. This can range from morphine to pethidine. These can only be prescribed by a doctor who has personally assessed your condition and deemed them appropriate treatment.
Level A drugs can cause significant damage to your health if not prescribed properly. These include tramadol and amoxicillin. These can only be obtained once per prescription and should only be taken for a limited duration. You can only find these drugs at doctors’ pharmacies and larger pharmacies in one of the cities of Switzerland.
Level B medicine
Level B medicines are drugs that can cause health complications even when used correctly. This includes drugs to treat common medical conditions and drugs to cure severe illnesses. These drugs must be prescribed by a doctor, but in some cases, you may continue receiving your medicine after the prescription ends, depending on the type of medicine and the discretion of the pharmacist. Please contact your doctor and pharmacist for more information.
Level D medicine
This category is for prescription-free drugs and medicines that can assist in treating lesser illnesses. These are openly available for purchase at the discretion of the pharmacist. This can include medicine such as lower doses of ibuprofen, paracetamol and cetirizine. These are available in all forms of pharmacy and can occasionally be found in drogeries.
Level E medicine
Level E medicines are medicines that are herbal or spiritual in nature. These can be freely purchased in any pharmacy, drogerie and supermarket in Switzerland. Medicines include medical teas, herbal remedies and vitamin tablets.
Medical consultation in a Swiss pharmacy
Another thing that is becoming more common in Swiss pharmacies are medical consultations. If you have an illness that does not require a doctor or GP, you can go to a pharmacy or drogerie to seek assistance.
There, they will be able to recommend non-prescription medication to deal with a specific illness. Be aware that pharmacies in Switzerland tend to recommend herbal remedies for most conditions and will provide these treatments before any recommendation of more traditional forms of medicine.