3. Right of Free Choice

A patient is basically entitled to a free choice of healthcare professional or public care facility. The choice may be limited if the compulsory health insurance system only covers part of the costs. 

The practical situation

Patients can consult the healthcare professionals of their choice. These professionals can, however, refer the patient to a colleague if they believe their treatment methods are unsuitable in the specific case or if they are not available.
Patients are entitled to be admitted to a public care institution of their choice (or to one recognised as being in the public interest). This institution must, however, have a bed available and the facilities and equipment needed for the treatment. In public hospitals, patients must accept treatment from the healthcare professionals working there.

Restrictions of free choice

Patients’ freedom of choice is restricted with respect to items paid for by statutory health insurance:

  • for outpatient treatment: to healthcare professionals working where the patient lives or works;
  • for hospital treatment: to hospitals on the hospital list issued by the Canton where the patient lives.

In addition, patients can waive their freedom of choice by choosing an insurance model that restricts the choice of healthcare professionals and facilities (for example, the general practitioner model). In view of the large number of models available, it is highly advisable to seek advice before you choose.

What happens if I have to go to a hospital in another canton in an emergency?

In an emergency, or if there are particular medical reasons, you can go to any hospital in Switzerland as long as it is on the list of the respective Canton. An emergency exists if – and for as long as – your state of health does not permit you to be taken to a hospital on the list of the canton where you live. You will be transferred to a listed hospital in the canton where you live as soon as this is possible and sensible. A particular medical reason exists if the treatment you need cannot be provided at any of the hospitals on the list issued by the Canton where you live.

What happens if I choose a hospital not on the list of the Canton where I live although it is not an emergency and there is no particular medical reason?

If, for personal reasons, you choose a hospital that is not on the list issued by the Canton where you live but is listed in the canton where it is located, you (or to your top-up insurance if you have it) will have to pay the difference between the tariff charged by that hospital and the tariff charged for the same treatment in a hospital in your canton of residence. If the hospital you choose is not on any hospital list, you (or your top-up insurance) will have to bear all costs yourself. You are therefore urgently recommended to ask your health insurance provider in advance.

Can I choose a nursing home freely?

You are essentially free to choose the nursing home in which you want to live and to change at any time. However, the nursing care offered (geriatric or psychogeriatric) must be suitable for your state of health. You should also be aware that the nursing home of your choice may not have a place available when you want it. If you want to go to a home that is not on your Canton’s list of nursing homes, or is located outside the canton where you live, you may have to pay the additional cost yourself. It is therefore advisable to enquire beforehand.

Am I free to choose my doctor in the nursing home?

Yes. You can also consult a doctor from outside the facility if you wish. It is advisable to find out in advance whether the cost of external consultations will be reimbursed.

Last modification 18.07.2019

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Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Health Strategies Division
Health Equity Section
Schwarzenburgstrasse 157
3003 Berne
Switzerland
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