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EXPLAINED: How getting a blood test works in France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How getting a blood test works in France
A laboratory technician handles samples at the Emile-Muller hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France in November 2020 (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

Getting blood tests in France can be a confusing experience for some. We explain how it works and what you should do with your results.


Getting a blood test done in France might be a bit different from what you are used to in your home country.

The part where you get poked with a needle is all the same, but it's the next bit that can be confusing and different to what you are used to, in other words how you get your results and what you are meant to do with them.


Unlike in the US and the UK, if your doctor wants you to do some blood tests you normally have to go to a separate location - a laboratoire, or laboratory - to get it done, as most doctors do not work in large clinic settings that would have blood testing on site.

Most of the time you will need a prescription from a doctor with a list of what they want testing, though depending on the nature of the exam you may be able to walk into a lab and request one without an ordonnance

You don't have to go to the one nearest the doctor, you can normally go to any laboratoire you want.


Most laboratories have specified hours where they do prélèvements (testing). You normally don't need to make an appointment but sometimes the testing centres can be busy. For example, if you walk in on a Saturday afternoon expecting to get blood tests done, you might be turned away.

You can make appointments ahead of time at some laboratoires using the website Doctolib (though not all doctors or labs are registered on this site), or by calling and making an appointment with lab of your choosing ahead of time.

READ MORE: How to use: French medical website Doctolib

When making your appointment, be sure to ask whether you need to avoid eating food beforehand - the French term is être à jeun. If you do have to fast, then you likely will not be able to eat or drink anything (apart from water) for a certain time before the blood test.

You'll also want to inform your technician or nurse if you are taking any medication at the time of testing.


As for the remaining steps, getting your blood drawn will probably be the same as it was in your home country.

What do I do with my results?

The French approach to healthcare is very focused on individual responsibilty. You have to be proactive about your own care, and this extends to reading your own test results. 

Instead of having your doctor call to explain them, you will first receive your own results - either online via login or by popping back to the laboratoire to pick up a printed copy - and they are typically just a series of numbers, ratios or percentages and medical terms.

The general idea is that the results are simply presented in numbers and then it is up to you to contact your healthcare provider to have them interpreted further. 

The document should give a reference point for the range your results should be in. For example, normal blood sugar after fasting (glycémie à jeun) should be between 3.9 and 6.1.

If your result is higher than 6.1, then that part of the document would be put in bold to indicate an abnormality.


In the event of specialised testing or very abnormal results, your doctor may call to inform you, but don't expect them to do so. 

Technically, your results should be transmitted to the prescribing doctor, but that does not mean they will look at them and call you up. The idea is that you book another appointment and bring your results in to discuss with the doctor afterwards.

You might be able to interpret your own results by doing some research online, though keep in mind that 'normal' standards will vary based on sex and age.

If everything seems normal and you just want to double check, some people have had success simply walking into a pharmacy and asking if the pharmacist on-call will look over the results. 

READ MORE: More than prescriptions: 11 things you can do at a French pharmacy

Still, if you have any doubts about your results, you should schedule another appointment with your doctor to go over the tests.

What about other types of tests?

Similar standards apply for MRIs and ultrasounds - you would need to go to a special centre (centre imagerie or radiologie). 

Usually during more involved testing, the technician or doctor will interpret the scan with you in person. Still, you will likely walk away with your own MRI scan and you are expected to hold onto this and bring it along to any future medical appointments if necessary.

How long do I need to keep test results?

Living in France means keeping track of a lot of paperwork. You would do well to invest in a filing cabinet to hold onto prescriptions, test results and other medical documents, as you may need them at some point in the future. 

That being said, the country is slowly moving things online. Recently, the French government launched a website called Mon Espace Santé which allows you to upload medical documents and decide which healthcare professionals have permission to consult them. This may be a good option for keeping track of old test results and paperwork instead of holding onto the physical copies of everything.



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