Healthcare: Expat Point of ViewBy Olga Mecking, The European Mama
photo credit: dmason via photo pin cc
The health system in the Netherlands is very different from the ones I’ve already experienced in Germany or Poland. In the Netherlands, it is much more common to see a GP instead of a specialist. The explanation for this is that specialists should be concerned with very sick people only. If you have a cold or a minor complication, you only see your GP. However, this approach has a great effect on the way how doctors treat their patients.
I think this is most visible in the case of expat mothers who take their sick child to see a doctor. I’ve been in this situation several times. I was usually informed that if the fever doesn’t last longer than 3 days it doesn’t even make sense to bother the doctor. You will be sent back home with the instructions to give your child Paracetamol and come back if it doesn’t get better.
I understand this approach. It is important not to overmedicate the child (or yourself) with antibiotics if they aren’t necessary. Also, going to the GP first makes sure that the specialist is seen only if the situation really requires it. This makes sense and is reasonable. But there is a difference between explaining this approach and treating a young inexperienced mother like an idiot who panics because her child has a slight fever.
On the other hand, if my girls’ symptoms matched what the doctor told me about bacterial infections, they were prescribed antibiotics. My husband has to take medication for his thyroid over-function. His condition is monitored by monthly blood tests, and the medication is adapted accordingly if needed. So, Dutch doctors actually do something if it is necessary.
I think the specialists are well educated. If your GP transfers you to an expert, you are in good hands. But preventive care is almost non-existent. For example it is hard to get the flu shot unless you are over 60 years old or have a heart condition. But I found if you are loud enough, you’ll get your shot.
Another thing that strikes me is that the Dutch are extremely enthusiastic about all things “natural”. Everywhere you go, you might encounter acupuncture and Chinese medicine practices or stores full of vitamins and supplements. Homeopathy and similar alternative treatments are common as well. I write about this because this is not popular in Poland - at least, not yet. I think it is because the Dutch like to be their own doctors, or maybe by going to an alternative provider they get the feeling that they actually get treatment. But even mainstream doctors are quick to “prescribe” home remedies, like cut onions for colds and warm tea. Oh, and Paracetamol is a cure-for all!
I still don’t know what to make out of the system. Generally speaking, it has worked well for me. I gave birth in the Netherlands to a healthy girl and was happy with the midwifery model and rather satisfied with my GP. However, there are things that bother me. For example, I don’t mind seeing a GP if I am sick, but would prefer to see a gynaecologist if I needed one. While I didn’t experience problems in pregnancy and during labour, I have heard stories where mothers and babies were put at risk because the midwife decided to ignore the mothers’ concerns. I talked to other expats and they feel the same way: that they are treated like idiots. Luckily, there are ways for expats to avoid this. Some hospitals such as Bronovo in The Hague have an Expat desk. The consultants speak English and other languages as well. Even in GP practices there is quite a chance that you’ll find an expat doctor who will understand your concerns- one of my doctors is German.
What do you think about healthcare in the Netherlands? Have you found ways to get the attention and support you need? If not, let us know your questions and we’ll try and help!
Thursday 02 August 2012 at 05:04 am.