To many newcomers to the Netherlands, navigating the Dutch healthcare system can be daunting. In this article, Amsterdam Mama Jolanda de Bie simplifies and explains the Dutch system – everything from how it works to who to call when you need help.
How to Find Appropriate Care
When you or your family are ill it is important to go to the most appropriate care provider. In most cases your starting point will be your general practitioner (GP). Before I go into detail on the organisation of Dutch healthcare, first an overview of steps in deciding where to turn to for care in Amsterdam.
What to do in case of illness or health concerns:
- Seek reliable information
If you are in doubt whether or not to contact your GP, or for more information on particular diseases or medication, please check the websites Thuisarts and Apotheek. Although the internet is full of reputable (and less reputable) health information, these sites are kept updated and align with the advice given by GPs and pharmacies.
- Contact your GP practice
The GP assistant (doktersassistent) will answer the phone; expect questions about the reason for calling. You will most likely either get advice on self-care or an appointment. Some GP practices also have daily walk-in hours for minor ailments.
- Call the Huisartsenpost after-hours hotline
If after business hours (after 17.00 and weekends) and your question is urgent, don’t hesitate to call Huisartsenpost Amsterdam (0880030600). This telephone line is manned by triage nurses that can either advise on self-care or make an appointment at your nearest clinic. Some hospitals now offer a huisartsenpost in addition to an emergency room, to avoid unnecessary use of ER services.
- Go to an Emergency room (SEH)
Is the situation too urgent or serious to go to the GP or Huisartsenpost? You can go to an emergency room (spoedeisende hulp) at your closest hospital. In Amsterdam: OLVG (2 locations, in Oost and West), AMC (Zuidoost), VUMedical Centre (Buitenveldert) or BovenIJziekenhuis (Noord). Amstelveen: Ziekenhuis Amstelveen from 8.00 till 22.00 or VU Medical Centre (Buitenveldert). Calling ahead is not required if you have been in an accident or in need of urgent care. In all other cases please first call your GP or Huisartsenpost for advice, they will refer you directly to the ER if needed. Note that visits to spoedeisende hulp is covered by your insurance but will count for your eigen risico (deductable) for a minimum of 175 euros.
- Call 112
If every minute counts call 112 for emergency services.
- Immediate help with Mental health issues
If you are experiencing serious psychological problems, including suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please know there is online help available 24/7 and by calling 0900 0113. Are you or anyone in your family in a direct crisis? Crisis psychiatric help is always available through the emergency services of hospitals, referral through your GP of Huisartsenpost, or outside of office hours by contacting Spoedeisende Psychiatrische Amsterdam at 020 5235433.
Organisation of Healthcare in the Netherlands
In military analogy, the organisation of healthcare has often been described in three lines of defence: The general practitioner (huisarts), is the central coordinator in first line care, and your point for referral to specialised care and diagnosis in second (hospitals and other specialised facilities) and third-line care (long-term care facilities). Other healthcare professionals in the first-line include midwives, physical therapists, dentists, and psychologists.
Public health services (GGD) are organised through the municipalities or regionally (GGD Amsterdam). They offer a wide range of public health services including the youth health centres (Consultatiebureau and Ouder en Kind Centrum) and school healthcare services. This care is additional to GP care and aimed at monitoring and promoting the health of all children living in Amsterdam. The nationwide vaccines program is also run via the GGD.
At the GP Practice
Although you are not obliged by law to be registered at a GP practice, I highly recommend it if you are settling in this city. Visits to your GP are covered by all basic insurance and will NOT count for your eigen risico. You are free to choose your own GP, within a range of 15 minutes traveling time to your home address, in case of emergencies. A good place to start looking for a GP is Zorgkaart Nederland.
All GPs should have a sufficient mastery of English for treatment purposes, but if you are only here for a limited time, it may be worthwhile to check out practices aimed especially at expats, such as the Expat Medical Centre. Most GPs have some sort of joint-practice organisation, ranging from sharing facilities and assistants to more integrated first-care facilities (gezondheidscentrum). The latter will have a joint organisation with other first-care providers under one roof, such as the Stichting Amsterdamse Gezonheidcentra. Increasingly, assistants are also involved in the monitoring and care for specific chronic patient groups such as diabetes care.
It may well be worth checking out the website of your GP practice to see what possibilities are available for making appointments online, asking questions via e-consult, or ordering repeat prescriptions online. Your GP will keep a (digital) file on you, with records of symptoms reported, diagnosis and advice given, prescriptions, referrals made, and summaries of treatment or diagnosis received from specialist care. You will be asked for permission to digitally share summaries of your medical file with other care providers. Care providers are only allowed to access your medical information if needed for your care.
Pharmacies (apotheken) in the Netherlands have an explicit role in the prevention of medication errors and interactions. For this purpose, they keep a digital file of all medication dispensed from both your GP and any specialists. Expect questions relevant to the safe use of medication, including the use of over-the-counter medication. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding please inform your pharmacy when you pick up prescribed medication, so they can perform appropriate safety screening. The pharmacist and the pharmacy assistant are specialists in the use, effects, and possible side-effects of prescribed and over-the-counter medication, so feel free to ask questions when they arise.
If you are experiencing psychological problems please know you are not alone. Many people experience feelings of shame in the case of psychological problems, making it especially hard to reach out for help. Know you can always discuss psychological problems with your GP, and he or she will help identify possible next steps. There are mental healthcare nurses available in Amsterdam who work in various locations, such as different GP practices, and can talk to you there. In addition, there is online help available in the form of tests, online courses, and chat contact with therapists. You can also opt to search for a psychologist or by recommendation from your GP. For urgent help, please see the information above for help.
Bio: Jolanda de Bie is a mamma to a lovely boy, a Dutch national, and an enthusiastic Amsterdammer for over 20 years. She is passionate about research and improving the quality of healthcare. After her MA in Psychology and Ph.D. in Dutch healthcare legislation, she was involved in a diverse range of national and international studies focusing mainly on primary care. Although not an international, she has been showered in stories of international living by her mother who grew up in then colonial Rhodesia, and who lived and worked with her father in Japan and the United states.