In The Netherlands your GP (huisarts) should always be your initial contact for all medical matters. The family doctor is key in the world of health care, treating patients for basic non-surgical problems and providing consultations for most of your general health questions. The GP also serves as your link to most other services such as hospitalisation, specialists, midwifery, physiotherapy, etc. If necessery, the GP can refer you to a medical specialist at short notice. The GP keeps your medical record up to date and prescribes your medication.
How to find a GP?
You should register with a GP upon arrival in The Netherlands. When choosing a GP, make sure you feel comfortable with them, as changing a GP once registered is discouraged and rarely done. Some GP’s may not accept any new patients as they are already filled to capacity. Finding a GP indeed requires a lot of footwork, but do not be discouraged and stop looking or leave it to later. They are necessary for all health matters, including prescriptions (even if you have one from home) and even calling in sick at work. You can choose your GP yourself.
To find a local GP you can try asking neighbours, friends, colleagues, or the nearest pharmacy (apotheek) for recommendations or request a list from your insurance company. You can look in the phone book under 'Huisarts' for listings near your postcode or you can search the website www.huisartsen.nl.
Visiting your GP
In case of illness as well as for general consultations on less urgent matters, first phone your GP. A trained medical assistant will answer your call and note your complaints in order to properly schedule your appointment.
Consultation hours or visits (spreekuren)
Most GP’s have walk-in consultation hours in the early mornings (check with your doctor), a reserved amount of time usually in the early morning that operates on a first-come first serve basis for matters requiring quicker attention. If you want to make an appointment or a telephone consultation, you will have to ring the assistent to arrange one. Appointments are scheduled to last 10 minutes, so if you think you’ll need more time, or if you have more than one complaint, book a double appointment. As always, write your questions down so you don’t forget anything, and always bring your insurance card with you. Your GP has access to laboratory, x-ray and other facilities at hospitals to aid in examination and diagnosis.
When the doctor is not on-call, a telephone message provides numbers for emergency service from other doctors or institutions.
Most GP’s work from their doctor’s surgery, making house calls only out of dire necessity.
Should you be unable to visit your GP due to a serious illness, a very high fever for example, you can phone the dr.’s office in the morning and arrange for a home visit. Do keep in mind, however, that dr.’s offices are better suited for an examination.
Referrals to a medical specialist
In some cases your GP might refer you to a specialist, generally in hospital. If your GP can not diagnose or treat a problem, you will be referred to a specialist. You will receive a letter of referral to be given to the specialist, whom you in turn will call for an appointment. In serious matters, your GP will communicate directly with the specialist. Keep in mind you may also seek the opinion of a specialist even though your GP may have not recommended it. It is always your right to seek a second opinion. It is advisable to tell your primary health care provider in order not to disturb the patient-care provider relationship.
During office hours first call your doctor. For first aid (open wounds, burns, bruising etc.) your GP can help you immediately. If you phone beforehand the doctor will know that you are coming and can make arrangements for you. For emergencies outside of opening hours, phone your GP. On the answering machine you
will hear options of where you can call. For a serious emergency outside of opening hours, see medical emergencies.