Healthcare in Netherlands - Expat Guide

Published: 27 Feb at 11 AM
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Filed: Healthcare,Netherlands

Local Expert Series: Healthcare in the Netherlands by Olga Mecking

The healthcare system is very different from what you may know from other countries. For example, if sick, your GP is the person to go rather than a specialist. If you require more interventions, you will be transferred to a specialist, but they are for emergencies and more complicated cases only.

Dutch doctors are also very hesitant to prescribe antibiotics and other medicines. This approach means that they will first suggest more natural remedies (for example cut onions for the common cold), and Paracetamol (which is considered a wonder drug here), before they will prescribe stronger medicines.

Healthcare in Netherlands
Healthcare in Netherlands
The idea behind this approach is very simple. First, Dutch doctors don’t want to overmedicate their patients. They are very aware of the possible side effects (for example in case of antibiotics). Also, it makes sure that specialists are not overbooked and can care for patients who really need them.

Another thing that strikes me as unusual is the popularity of alternative medicine. You will see practices advertising Chinese medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and other treatments. This is not so popular in Poland which is why I find it surprising, but it seems to fit well with the Dutch love of all things natural.

Pregnant women are cared for by midwives rather than obstetricians unless they have a medical indication for it. The midwives work in independent practices of 1-6 midwives. While they won’t do all tests that OB’s may do in other countries, they take the blood pressure, order blood and urine tests, measure the belly, and perform ultrasounds- mostly 2-3 times during the pregnancy. They also listen to the baby’s heartbeat during every appointment.

The appointments start with being 4 weeks apart and as the due date approaches, they get more frequent- ending up once a week around 40 weeks. A midwife also answers all questions the pregnant women may have. In case of a medical condition, a woman will get referred to an OB or a secondary midwife- one that works in a hospital and cares for women with slightly high-risk pregnancies.

The midwife will also be present at birth. Many Dutch women choose homebirths- the Netherlands still has the highest rate of homebirths in the developed world, even though these numbers have decreased significantly. A midwife cannot administer an epidural and many women choose an unmedicated labor. Anasthesia is not easily available, but it is also becoming more common.

A typically Dutch thing is the so called kraamzorg. It is a service for women who have just given birth. A nurse comes to their homes and helps with the daily chores, like cleaning, ironing, laundry. She can even prepare light meals. If needed, she can also take care of older children so that the new mom can rest. Her main purpose, however, is to make sure mom and baby are healthy and well. This means that the kraamzorgster will also weight the baby, measure the temperature, provide support with feedings (whether it is by breast or bottle), help bathe the baby and perform all necessary check-ups on the mother. The kraamzorg will come for 8 days.

After that, there is the so called Consultatiebureau. It is a place where doctors and nurses work together to provide baby well-checks. They also will weight and measure the baby, ask questions and provide advice on feeding, sleeping, and general development. They also vaccinate children. However, if the baby or child is sick, they should see the GP.

My personal experiences with the Dutch healthcare system are mixed. For example, while my GP’s usually recognised most of our problems and acted accordingly, they often felt dismissive and made me feel a fool for even seeing them. I enjoyed the benefits of the midwifery system in the Netherlands, and I think they are very educated. However, a midwife could be biased against using pain relief in labor, or transferring a patient to an OB. Also, sometimes it feels like there is no real choice if you don’t want to go the natural birth route- C sections on demand are usually frowned upon.

I felt the kraamzorg is a great idea and she proved to be a great help around the house, and she was extremely supportive and a great source of information. Additionally, she did wonders for my Dutch!

The Consultatiebureau, however, is the place to go to get the baby checked and weighted, but their advice has rarely proven helpful. While they sent my daughter to therapy, they did it at the last moment and only at my insistence. They could have acted earlier and maybe progress would have been faster.

So, the Dutch healthcare system has definitely its advantages and disadvantages. It is also very unique and takes a while getting used to, especially when you come from a country where medication is easily available.

Useful links for Dutch Healthcare: (for information about Consultatiebureau) (for finding a doctor) (for finding a hospital) (for finding a dentist) (for finding pharmacies in your area) (need a midwife? Check out this site!) (or maybe you require doula services for your birth?)

About the author

Local ExpertOlga Mecking is a Polish woman living in the Netherlands with her German husband and their two trilingual girls. She blogs about being an expat, her life in the Netherlands, and raising multilingual children on her website "The European Mama". She also occasionally contributes to Nomad Parents, Amsterdam Mamas, InCulture Parent Magazine and a Polish parenting site, EgoDziecka. She has recently started giving trainings in intercultural communication. Olga greatly enjoys her life in the Netherlands and is very happy to be given the opportunity to meet so many inspiring people!

If you have anything to add about your own experience relating to this article, or perhaps have a question for Olga please leave her a comment below!
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