There are a few things that people from abroad often notice about Dutch healthcare:

  • The general practitioner (GP), called a huisarts in Dutch, is unknown in many health systems. In addition, the role of GPs in other health systems may be different from the very central role of the GP in Dutch healthcare.  What to expect from the huisarts: 

For many newcomers, the main difference between medical care in the Netherlands and their home country is the central role of the GP. In the Netherlands, almost everyone has their own GP. The GP knows you and your family (if applicable) and is familiar with your situation and your health issues. The GP is your first point of contact for questions about your physical and mental health. 

The GP can answer most of your general health questions. The GP also performs minor surgical procedures and, for example, standard gynaecological and paediatric examinations. It is normal for children to be seen by a GP. In the Netherlands, paediatricians generally only see children with special needs or conditions.

A GP is a healthcare specialist. He or she has received 3 years of specialist training after a general 6-year medical education. A GP is required by law to regularly update his or her skills and re-register every 5 years. A GP is also trained to determine when you need to be seen by another healthcare specialist. Therefore, your GP also serves as your link to most other services, such as other medical specialists or hospitalization if necessary. You can’t visit a medical specialist in the hospital without a referral from your GP.

Your GP coordinates the healthcare that you need and keeps your medical records up to date and confidential. He or she keeps an overview of your medical history and any current symptoms or medical issues. Feel free to talk to your GP about information or services that you feel you need.

  • The GP is your first contact in The Netherlands, even if you would prefer to see a specialist. The GP will assess your symptoms and give you a referral to a specialist if they deem It necessary. This system works well in The Netherlands and our GPs have experience with a wide range of symptoms and treatments. It’s always a good idea to invest in a strong relationship with your GP and explain any personal or cultural concerns you have so they can support you.
  • In the event of a life threatening emergency, call 112. For all other emergencies, call your GP. Your GP will order an ambulance for you if necessary. If you have an after hours emergency, call the after hours GP (huisartsenpost). They will assess you over the phone and either invite you in for a weekend appointment, send a GP for a house call, or suggest treatment at home so you can call your personal GP during office hours for an appointment. 112 is available 24 hours a day and will give you access to all emergency services: ambulance, police and fire brigade. In a medical emergency, you will also be instructed what to do until the ambulance arrives.

    Urgent medical matters during weekdays: call your General Practitioner (GP)
    For other, non-life-threatening, medical emergencies during office hours, first call your GP. You can call your GP between 8 o ’clock in the morning and 5 o ’clock in the afternoon on weekdays.  

    The GP practice will have a separate emergency number or a voice response system that will give you immediate access to your care provider. You will usually speak to the GP assistant first, and then the GP if necessary. For urgent matters, the GP will visit you at home immediately if necessary. If you need to go to hospital, the GP will call the ambulance and the specialist at the hospital who will take over your medical care.  

    Urgent medical matters during evenings, nights, weekends or public holidays: out-of-hours service (huisartsen-spoedpost or HAP)
    When the GP practice is closed, you can call the out-of-hours service for medical emergencies. This means: on weekdays between 5 o ‘clock in the afternoon and 8 o ’clock in the morning and on weekend days and public holidays. The out-of-hours service (huisartsen-spoedpost in Dutch, abbreviated HAP) is a central office where GPs are available on call.

    If you call your GP’s practice out of hours, their answering machine will tell you (often in Dutch) which phone numbers you can call for GP-care and in case of emergencies. You can also usually find the number for the out-of-hours service on your GP practice’s website.  

    When you call the out-of-hours service, you will speak to a specially trained GP assistant. He or she will ask you your name, date of birth and health insurance details, after which you explain what the problem is. The assistant will ask you questions to determine how serious your situation is. Sometimes discussing your problem with the assistant and getting advice from him or her is enough. Sometimes the GP on duty will need to call you back. In other cases, you will make an appointment to see a GP at the out-of-hours service. It may also be necessary for the GP to visit you at home.  

    This subtitled video will tell you more about the out-of-hours service.

    Mental health crisis
    If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact your general practitioner (GP) or the out-of-hours service (huisartsenpost) immediately. If necessary, the GP can contact the local Crisis Intervention Team (available 24/7).

    If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, you can also call 0800-0113 or 113, an anonymous helpline.

  • In the Netherlands, doctors are less likely to prescribe antibiotics and other medication compared to what you may be used to. After a consultation, it is possible that you will receive a diagnosis but no medication. You are advised to come back if the symptoms do not get better. You may also be advised to take pain killers like paracetamol to reduce any pain or discomfort.
  • A yearly health check is not recommended by Dutch GPs.
  • In the Netherlands, pregnancy and childbirth are considered natural events. Giving birth at home is common and pain medication is not generally given. You can always opt for pain relief and to give birth in a hospital if you prefer. Midwives are medical professionals who have received 4 years of training. In general, GPs do not provide perinatal care (care during pregnancy and childbirth), nor maternity care afterwards. Read more about which care the GP does and does not provide.
  • Dutch GPs may seem blunt and direct: directness is a Dutch cultural trait that may take some time getting used to. We recommend that you prepare for each doctor’s visit by writing down your questions and concerns.
  • The Dutch are liberal when it comes to nudity. You might not be offered a privacy screen to get undressed behind or a sheet to cover yourself with during an examination. If you are uncomfortable with this, for example because of your culture or religion, you can tell your doctor about your concerns and needs. Women (and men) can always bring someone with them to a doctor’s visit.

In general: you should not be afraid to ask for the information or service that you need or feel comfortable with.