Healthcare for Internationals

How may it differ and what does it mean?

There are a few recurring observations internationals make about the idiosyncrasies of Dutch healthcare:

  1. The GP (‘huisarts’) is unknown in many health systems, and if this professional does exist, he may have a role that differs from the very central role the GP has in Dutch  healthcare. A Dutch GP has received 3 years of specialist training after a basic 6-year medical education.
  2. It is not possible to visit a medical specialist without a referral from a GP. Dutch medical specialists treat more complicated cases, whereas the GP is trained to treat less complicated complaints and to determine what specialist(s) to consult if so needed.
  3. In the Netherlands, doctors are less likely to prescribe antibiotics and other medication compared to what you may be accustomed to. Evidence shows it is often best to let an illness run its course without tests and medication, that often have harmful side effects. This wait-and-see approach is medically appropriate for minor illnesses such as a sore throat or a common cold.
  4. After a consultation, it is possible you will receive a diagnosis but no medication. You are advised to come back if the complaint persists and to take paracetamol to alleviate any discomfort.
  5. In the Netherlands, pregnancy and giving birth is considered a natural event. Home deliveries are common and pain medication is not generally administered. You can always opt for pain relief and delivery in hospital. Midwives are medical professionals who have received 4 years of training.
  6. GPs may come across as blunt and direct: directness is a Dutch cultural trait that may take some time getting used to. We suggest you prepare for each consult by writing down your questions and concerns.
  7. The Dutch are liberal when it comes to nudity. It is possible you will not be offered a screen behind which to change, or a sheet to cover yourself with during an examination. If you are uncomfortable with this, e.g. because your culture or religion dictate modesty, you can tell your doctor about your concerns and needs. Women (or men) can always bring a chaperone to a doctor’s visit.

Knowing about these differences does not automatically mean that you will feel at ease in Dutch healthcare from day one. Discuss your worries with the medical professional you are consulting. He or she should be receptive to your worries and make every effort to take away your concerns.