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Travelers Guide to Healthcare in the Netherlands

An in-depth guide on healthcare in the Netherlands for travelers, from pharmacy runs to emergencies – here's everything you need to know.

The Netherlands is a long-time favorite among travelers and expats, beloved for its remarkable landscape, canals, culture, and laid-back atmosphere. Informally called Holland, the Netherlands is situated in Western Europe and consists of 12 provinces, and even has territories in the Caribbean – with the four largest cities being Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht.

If you are planning a trip, this guide to healthcare in the Netherlands will tell you everything you need to know to stay safe and informed during your stay.

Contents

Healthcare In the Netherlands – The Basics

Boasting one of the highest quality healthcare systems globally, the Dutch have built a tightly managed market to achieve universal healthcare, resulting in a very accessible healthcare system that can be accessed via public or private health insurance. This is very different from the more socialized system seen in other European regions.

Public Healthcare

All residents and visitors in the Netherlands can access healthcare services, so long as they have health insurance. In fact, there is a mandatory requirement for all Dutch residents to have basic public health insurance, and people who don’t carry insurance will be fined and auto-enrolled in an insurance plan with higher premiums.

Those who are exempt from this insurance include:

  • Children under the age of 18, since they are covered by the parent/guardian’s insurance.
  • Temporary visitors from the EU/EEA/Switzerland who can receive healthcare coverage through the EHIC.
  • Temporary visitors from outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland who will need to have private health insurance.

The basic Dutch insurance package covers all costs for the most common medical care, including GP and specialist services, medication, and most maternity care. There are some services that are not covered, which include treatments such as dental care for adults, physiotherapy, and some specialist treatments.

Cost of Healthcare In the Netherlands

The average cost to a Dutch citizen for health insurance is approximately 1,400 Euros each year. But people with lower incomes get additional government assistance to reduce their payments. The government also collects contributions from employers to help fund the insurance scheme and cover children’s costs.

Public financing covers about 75% of the costs of the Netherland’s healthcare system. Insurers have also operated as non-profits.

The cost of a doctor’s consultation in the Netherlands is around: 30 – 50 Euros.

Payment methods available in the Netherlands include:

  • iDEAL, which is an online bank transfer system and the most popular online payment method.
  • MasterCard, VISA, PayPal, and pay later methods like Klarna and AfterPay are also widely used.

Doctors And Specialists In the Netherlands

GP’s or huisarts hold a central role in the Dutch medical system. Your GP is typically the first port of call if you have any questions concerning your health. They deal with routine health issues, perform standard pediatric and gynae examinations, and refer you to other healthcare services like hospitals, specialists, at-home midwifery, and physiotherapy.

Since GPs in the Netherlands perform such a broad score of services, patients are less likely to receive referrals elsewhere or receive prescription medication compared to other countries. For instance, GPs perform routine OB-GYN check-ups, including pap smears and the insertion or removal of IUDs.

If you want to see a doctor in the Netherlands, you need to make an appointment or afspraak. You can make an appointment online or telephonically, but some clinics have specific timeslots for walk-in consultations or in-loop spreekuur. These are usually first thing in the morning and are reserved for short, simple questions and ailments. When you call to make your appointment, the GP’s assistant will probably ask you a few questions to assess your situation and determine whether you need to come in the same day or a few days later. They can often give you medical advice too since they are medical professionals.

If you want to find a GP in the Netherlands who speaks your language, download the Air Doctor app for Android or Apple.

GPs in the Netherlands can also make house calls, typically after hours or during specific time slots. If you would like a home visit, let the GP assistant know and they will discuss whether it is necessary.

It might even occur that you’re unable to reach a GP. If the doctor is away, they will leave a message with the number of another doctor or perhaps the number of an emergency provider. Another option is calling your local GP Post or huisartsenpost and they will tell you if you need to go to the emergency room at your nearest hospital or wait for a doctor to return.

Most healthcare professionals in the Netherlands speak English at a reasonable level. And some medical clinics market themselves specifically to the English-speaking demographic. You can easily find independent doctors or primary care clinics in all residential areas. In general, operational times are from 8 AM to 5 PM.

Specialists mostly treat patients in hospitals or specialty clinics.

When you arrive for your doctor’s appointment, you should bring your ID along with your appointment confirmation and health insurance card. It’s not unusual to wait beyond your appointment time, although consultations typically only last 15 minutes.

After-hours healthcare is organized at a municipal level at GP Posts, which function as walk-in centers run by nearby hospitals. These centers provide primary care between 5 PM – 8 AM. Nearly all GPs in the Netherlands work for a GP Post and must provide at least 50 hours of after-hours care each year to maintain their registration as a GP. The GP co-ops is a group of private physicians who come together to deliver better after-hours care and share the responsibility, as opposed to every doctor offering the service 365 days a year, 24/7.

Seeing A Specialist

In the Netherlands you can’t go to a specialist directly for treatment and must be referred by a GP. Once you have received a referral, you can make an appointment with the specialist – if you have a specific specialist in mind, you may request a referral to that specialist.

Most specialists work in a hospital setting instead of a specialist clinic and operate as contractors and not employees. When you arrive at the hospital, look for the sign Poliklinieken and find the correct department.

Gynecologists

As mentioned previously, GPs in the Netherlands perform all basic gynecological services. Specialist and private OB-GYNs are available, but are not as common as in other countries. If you want access to gynae care, speak to your GP first. Once they decide if you need specialist attention, they will make a referral.

Dentistry

In the Netherlands, dentistry is privatized and not covered by basic insurance policies – except for children under 18. Dentists or tandarts typically work in single-dentist practices, although the trend is seeing more dentists working together in larger practices.

Other dental care can only be covered by taking out extras on your insurance policy. Usually, dentists list their rates on their websites, and insurance companies have comparable lists for how much they will cover for each service.

Dental surgeons are usually affiliated with hospitals, while orthodontists typically work in private practices. In order to visit a specific kind of dentist like a children’s dentist, you need a referral from a regular dentist.

If you cannot reach a dentist, you should call an emergency dentist called a spoed tandarts – these are located at emergency clinics in every major city in the Netherlands. They are open 24/7 and are available to tourists.

The Netherlands offers a good standard of healthcare services and facilities for children. Children are insured up to the age of 18 through their parent’s/guardian’s insurance, this includes dental care. Doctors can provide pediatric care or refer a patient to specialist pediatricians or children’s hospitals (kinderziekenhuis) if needed.

Drugstores And Pharmacies

Drugstores (drogist) sell non-prescription médications, toiletries, cosmetics, and baby essentials. Whereas, an apotheek or pharmacy sells prescription-only drugs and over-the-counter meds, vitamins, baby items, homeopathic products, and at-home medical equipment. People working at pharmacies in the Netherlands can offer advice on medications and minor ailments. There will always be an apotheek open 24 hours somewhere in the area. To find the closest out-oh-office pharmacy, you can check the list display in the pharmacy window or call 020 694 8609.

Generally, Dutch healthcare is non-interventionist in nature, so don’t expect to leave the consultation with a prescription. Doctors in the Netherlands tend to not hand out anti-depressants or antibiotics lightly, so it’s important to be clear about what you want.

If you do get a prescription from your doctor, you need to visit a nearby pharmacy or apotheek to collect your meds. Pharmacists in the Netherlands generally have a good level of English and can explain the correct way to take your medication as prescribed.

Hospitals In the Netherlands

The Netherlands has many hospitals which offer excellent medical care. There are three main types of hospitals:

  • Academic Hospitals: These are university medical centers allied with major Dutch universities. These facilities have a variety of researchers and specialists working within them and, as a result, can provide more specialized care.
  • Teaching Hospitals: These hospitals also work with university medical centers to aid in the training of nurses and medical interns. These offer more specialized treatments, and interns may accompany doctors during procedures.
  • General Hospitals: These hospitals offer standard (but very good) healthcare for less specialized problems. If necessary, patients will be referred to more specialized facilities.

All hospitals in the Netherlands have children’s wards but there are also hospitals dedicated just to children’s healthcare. Some children’s hospitals and wards accommodate parents overnight.

Unless it is an emergency, most hospitals require a referral letter from your GP. If you are admitted as an in-patient, you may find yourself in a shared room or ward with up to 6 beds with people of mixed genders. It is always a good idea to bring your own clothes and toiletries.

For your first visit to a Dutch hospital, you should register at the front desk with your name, address, insurer, and the name of the GP who referred you. You should hand in your referral letter and any important information from the GP at the counter. This information will be passed onto the specialist before you go in and is recorded in the hospital’s system and in a small plastic card called a ponsplaatje or electronische patiëntenpas. These act as a kind of passport to bring up your history and to send your bills to your insurer. You should have it with you whenever you go to the hospital.

Specialist appointments in hospitals typically do not last longer than 5 to 10 minutes since the purpose is merely to determine whether further diagnoses and/or treatment is needed. After this, you might need to make a new appointment, undergo tests, or be referred to a different specialist.

After hours (5 PM – 8 AM), local hospitals offer GP services called the huisartsenpost. These services can be used for non-life-threatening but still semi-urgent medical situations. You can call them for advice, and if they think you need to see a doctor in person, they will give you an appointment, usually within an hour or two.

Some hospitals in the Netherlands have onsite pharmacies where you can fill your prescription after you’ve been treated instead of going to another pharmacy.

It’s important to note that visiting hours at hospitals in the Netherlands are strictly enforced and should be adhered to.

List of Hospitals In The Netherlands:

Note these are only some of the hospitals in the hubs of the Netherlands.

Amsterdam:

Rotterdam:

The Hague:

Utrecht:

Emergency And After-Hours Healthcare

If you are in the Netherlands and encounter a life-threatening situation, it’s best to dial the emergency number: 112 for assistance.

When it comes to less urgent medical assistance, you can call:

  • a GP
  • Huisartsenpost
  • Or the Central Doctor’s Service ((+31)205923434) if you do not need an ambulance but need urgent medical advice and are either not registered with a GP or cannot reach yours.
  • Emergency dentists for dental emergencies

Telehealth in the Netherlands

Telehealth in the Netherlands and its usage has increased considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no specific regulations regarding telehealth, but there are healthcare regulations that all providers should comply with. Such as the qualification criteria of the HCP, informed consent of and agreement with the patient, and data protection.

In essence, any patient in the Netherlands may take advantage of telemedicine services in other countries, and any patient from another country may take advantage of telemedicine services in the Netherlands since there is no Dutch legislation preventing this.

Tips For Tourists In the Netherlands

It’s best not to call the Netherlands “Holland”, since Holland is a region in the Netherlands, and those who reside outside of Holland may take offense if referred to as “Hollanders” instead of “Netherlanders.”

The Netherlands is one of the most low-context cultures in the world, and it is reflected in how Dutch people interact with you – since they are direct, clear, and blunt.

When Dutch people speak English, they use short pauses to allow others a chance to join the conversation. So, you might find you won’t get a word in! You aren’t being cut off on purpose; you just need to be aware of this and reset the length of time you wait before you start speaking.

Dutch people take punctuality (especially in a business context) very seriously and expect the same in return. If you are running late, call to explain and request that they wait or reschedule. In the same light, commitments are taken seriously, so don’t make promises or offer if you can’t deliver on them.

When dealing with Dutch medical providers, be straightforward about your needs and expectations. They are direct, and doctors in the Netherlands are often blunt. Do not take this as them being unfriendly; they simply want to ensure they understand symptoms and treatment options. Communicating with them in the same way means you’ll have a better chance of being heard. Don’t hesitate to exaggerate because that will equal you getting the help you need.

Some Useful Phrases:

Some useful phrases to learn are:

  • Please call 112: Bel 112! (bel ayn ayn tway)
  • Get a doctor: Haal een dokter! (haal ern dok-ter)
  • I am ill: Ik ben ziek! (ik ben seek)
  • Where is the hospital?: Waar is het ziekenhuis? (wahr is het see-kern-hoais?)

If you are a tourist in the Netherlands and would like to speak to a medical professional connected to an international network of doctors, you can make an appointment on the Air Doctor app right now and have an in-person or virtual consultation within minutes.

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Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.