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The healthcare system in the Netherlands

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Unlike most countries in Europe, the health care system in the Netherlands is privatised, although it is heavily regulated.

Health insurance

You are required to have health insurance in the Netherlands. Health insurance can be purchased through numerous insurance agencies. You can choose your level of coverage and decide how much coverage you want and how high of a deductible you can afford. Children can be added to their parents’ plan for free until they are eighteen. Health insurance is comprehensive and is required by law to cover what is known as primary care (i.e. doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, trips to the emergency room) and prescription drugs, but coverage for options such as dental care, eyeglasses, and specialist outpatient care (e.g. physical therapy) can be variable.

Seeing the doctor

The huisarts, or primary care physician, is your first point of contact for almost everything. Once you select a huisarts, you will be asked for your information (name, address, BSN number, insurance policy number, etc.) the first time you make an appointment with them. Subsequent visits are usually more readily arranged.

You must see a huisarts before you can see a specialist. If the huisarts determines that it is necessary for you to see a specialist, they will usually set up the appointment with the specialist for you, and then it is incumbent upon you to show up at the specialist at the appointed time. It should be noted that, for non-emergencies, the waiting time for specialist appointments can be very long, on the order of weeks to months.

Most doctors in the Netherlands do speak English, and translation services can be arranged for other languages, either through the phone or in person.

In case of emergency

For life-threatening emergencies, call 112 – every telephone, even those without an active SIM card, can reach this number. Calling 112 sends an ambulance. For other emergencies where the need for care is urgent but not life-threatening (i.e. a broken arm) you can go directly to the huisarts, or to the huisartspost (in hospitals) if it is outside office hours.

Medication and treatment

Prescription medicine are only available through the apotheek, which typically carries over-the-counter remedies and other non-prescription healthcare items as well. Most OTC remedies available in the Netherlands are limited to homeopathic remedies and five or six basic medications for common ailments such as fungal infections and allergy medications.

Refills are typically handled automatically – you do not have to make an appointment with your huisarts every time you need more, though you are required to call them when you need a refill.

Pregnancy and kids’ care

The Netherlands has a very relaxed attitude towards pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnant women receive their prenatal care through a midwife (you can contact your huisarts for recommendations). Screenings are infrequent unless complications develop, whereupon you may be referred to an obstetrician. At around the sixth or seventh month, you will be asked where you’d like to have your baby, either at home or in the hospital. This is also the time to arrange for the kraamzorg, an optional (though highly recommended) service where a helper comes to your house for about a week after the birth, to help with the cooking and cleaning and other domestic things.

If you give birth in a hospital, you will typically be discharged after a few hours. Once you get home, the midwife will come to your house to finish the postnatal care for both you and the baby.

Children only go to the huisarts if they are sick. When your child is born you will be visited by the Jeugdgezondheiddienst (Youth Health Services) and they will make the first well-child appointments with you. Well-child checkups are provided through the JGD for the first two years and then once a year after that.

 Useful links:

Department of Health
The International Agency for Health Hague

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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