Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A visit to the huisarts

When living in a foreign country (especially one where english is not the main language), I realise just how much you take for granted in your home country. Simple yet important things, such as - what do I do when I get sick - suddenly become a challenge. I'll never forget my first experience with a foreign doctor in France. Although I was not the patient, my visiting friend was and we had an interesting evening with a doctor that didn't speak a word of English and me frantically trying to translate in my poor frenglish skills. The value of hand gestures as a means of communication was ever so evident that night.

I always find it interesting to see how differently things work in other countries, so without going into any personal details, I thought I'd share our first experience of a visit to the huisarts.

First step: sort our your health insurance. Basically the health system in the Netherlands is entirely privitised - unlike Australia, there is no free public health system. Even on our 2 year temporary residence permits, we must still take out full (costly, costly, costly - ugh, I'm still blown away) medical insurance. This took Mitch and I hours of reading over booklets from the university recommended insurance company, and trying to grasp exactly what we needed. Like private health insurance in Australia, you take out a basic package and then add extras such as dental cover, or better optical cover and so on. Having the basic package is COMPULSORY here. You can get hefty fines if you are found to be uninsured!

Second step: register with a GP at a medical centre. Unlike Australia, where you can just randomly visit whatever doctor and medical centre you wish, here you have to choose your doctor and you stick with them. Obviously if you are unhappy with your choice, you can change after filling out some paperwork, but I found the fact that you have to register with a particular GP quite unusual. Once you've been into the medical centre to register with your ID and insurance details, you are then free to make appointments as you wish (all fully covered under insurance, of course). The GP here appears to be much more of an all rounder than in Australia - it's not so common to be referred to specialists. I've also heard (although I can't vouch for how true this is) that the Dutch doctors approach to health means that you are less likely to be given antibiotics and other medication - the view is more along the lines of, try and get over it yourself, if you're still sick in a few days, well THEN we'll give you something. Like I said though, not sure how valid this is.

When you do need to be referred to a specialist, unlike Australia, you do not receive a letter and call the specialist yourself. Rather, the GP's office makes all the arrangements for you and they call you back with an appointment time. I have to say, I think this is entirely unpractical as the GP's office doesn't know your schedule - so you just end up getting stuck with whatever time you're given.

Now, medications - in Australia, the doctor gives you a paper prescription which you then take to the pharmacy of your choice to get filled. When registering at the doctors here, we were advised that you also have to register at a pharmacy - naturally, it ends up being the one closest to the medical centre. When you need to go pick up your medication from the pharmacy, you simply show up with your health insurance card which is scanned and voila - here's your medication.

So, there it is - a visit to the huisarts in a nutshell...


  1. ACCESS Magazine Spring 2010 issue has an outline on the Healthcare system in the NL that will explain a lot of your questions. The article is on pages 16 and 17.

    I do find it odd that your GP scheduled the appointment with your specialist for you. I just recently saw a specialist and had just the opposite. Once I got the referral from my huisarts, I was responsible for everything else after that.

    The idea of finding a GP and sticking with it also holds true for where I come from in the US.

    Just wait until you get your first yearly "girl exam"... THAT'S - how shall I describe it? - innterestinggg... Not at all what I was used to in the US lol!

  2. I could almost have written the same about... the australian health care system! As a non permanent resident you have to pay a very expensive private health care insurance, the pharmacist 2 days ago asked me if I had ever taken antibiotics (I wasn't sure at first if it was really the question she was asking since it seemed so obvious to me!) and 90% of the time GP send you back home with only panadol on your prescription, and when I broke my ribs 2 years ago I was stunned they wouldn't even prescribe an X-ray. As for the choice, the only choice I see in Australia for GPs is whether you gonna pay 30 or 40 bucks of gap whatever your insurance any time you decide you're sick and brave enough to finally go see a doctor.
    But all that, I guess is just part of the exciting adventure of being overseas! And like everything, after a while it makes you reflect about the good and bad things in your own country :)

  3. Hey - hand guestures in France worked a treat - I got the good drugs.... K :-)

  4. hey Lu - its sounds complicated but I'm sure it works efficiently once your in the system! I hope you don't need too many visits to the dr!
    love lots, Martine


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