My first experiences with Dutch healthcare

Dutch healthcare: Perfectly practical or a painstaking quest all for a few paracetamol?

Moving to the Netherlands, I was prepared for the Dutch weather, but not as prepared for the Dutch super germs. While our neighbors are enjoying the great outdoors, we are trapped inside coughing and sneezing. Our American immune systems just don’t seem to be equipped to fight Dutch viruses. Naturally, after the move, I was a little anxious as to what my experiences would be like navigating the Dutch healthcare system. Well, with two young children, it took a little over a month before I gained first-hand experience of it.

Getting health insurance was fairly straightforward.  Once I understood that there was basic coverage and then reviewed the various options, foreseeing my use, I selected a plan for our family. was a great site to compare plans.  I found a health insurance company that was English-friendly and quickly, we were signed up.  As with all insurance, I was happy it was there but hoping we wouldn’t need to use it.

That wish lasted two weeks. While getting a general practitioner, or huisart, was on my to-do list, I didn’t prioritize it until my four-year-old daughter was two days into a fever.  My search for a doctor began.

Using a recommendation from my neighbour, I called her huisart. Initially excited as it was only three miles away by bike from the house, my happiness soon dissipated when I was quickly denied as a new patient for being “too far away”.  Due to the practice’s growth, they had significantly limited the postal codes for new patients.  This situation repeated itself with three other nearby practices until the clock hit 5 pm on Friday evening and I was still without a doctor.

Hoping that my daughter’s fever would take care of itself, I patiently waited.  However, by Sunday, I knew she needed to see a doctor.  A friendly neighbor helped me contact the Huisartsenpost, an after-hours central call center that provides medical advice and triage.  Accessing the situation, a nurse scheduled an appointment at the first aid center of the local hospital. My daughter and I jumped on our bakfiets and off we went.

From my experiences in the United States, I prepared my pen for the multitude of papers to sign and I got cozy in the emergency room waiting area in anticipation of a long wait.  To my surprise, with just a request for our name, we were escorted back within five minutes. The doctor started with us immediately and began the examination. Within fifteen minutes, we were back on our bike heading home.

My conclusion:

I will admit that I miss the ability in the United States to go to my local pharmacy clinic, see a nurse practitioner and pick up my prescriptions in one stop. The process in the Netherlands is more involved but it is also collaborative and resource-efficient.

Later that week, I was able to finally register with a general practitioner.  This was fortunate as we have been frequent visitors to the office.  Each time we have been told we have a virus and will have to wait it out.  I finally thought I would get my hands on some antibiotics when my daughter had an ear infection, but again, I was told to give her some paracetamol and come back in a few days.

Two hospital visits and four doctor visits within the month was not the way we wanted to start off the school year.  After all these visits, I asked our new doctor for his advice on how to stay healthy.  His advice, “Expect to get sick 6-7 times a year.  Welcome to Holland”.


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