The central role of the General Practitioner
A key to Dutch curative (or medical) healthcare is the General Practitioner (GP) or family doctor (‘huisarts’) who is your first contact for all medical questions and issues. GP’s are trained specialists in treating the most common complaints.
When needed, your GP will prescribe medication or refer you to a diagnostic center, hospital or medical specialist. Statistically, 9 out of 10 complaints are treated by the GP and around 1 in 10 is referred to another healthcare professional. In some cases, a hospital or medical specialist may refer you to an even more specialized hospital or medical professional. It is not possible to see a medical specialist or go directly to a hospital without a referral, except in case of a life-threatening medical emergency.
Dutch curative healthcare is organized in 3 levels:
- Primary healthcare: Next to the GP, primary healthcare also includes other services, such as physiotherapy, midwifery and dentistry. Diagnostics and medical tests (e.g. blood or urine) are either done within the doctor’s office or you are referred to a diagnostic center.
- Secondary curative healthcare: Most hospitals and medical specialist and related diagnostics and tests.
- Tertiary healthcare: Specialized (often academic) hospitals such as for oncology or severe burns.
Read more about the extent to which the costs of these 3 levels of healthcare are covered by Dutch health insurance.
When referral is not required
You can visit some primary care services, notably a midwife, physiotherapist or dentist without a referral of your GP, but coverage of their services is dependant upon your health insurance policy. If you don’t have coverage, it is still possible to see these professionals, however, any cost is your responsibility.
Healthcare providers, whom you have been referred to by your GP, will report back to your GP with any findings or recommendations. Thus, your GP coordinates the healthcare that you need and keeps your medical records up to date and confidential. You are entitled to gain access to your medical records.