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You will need to register with a family doctor (huisarts). The family doctor or general practitioner plays a prominent role in the Dutch health care system. The family doctor treats patients for non-surgical problems and is specialized in common and minor diseases. He or she can answer most general health questions and also cares for patients with chronic illnesses. Many family doctors also do minor surgical procedures. He or she will also serve as your link with other medical services, such as hospitals, specialists, home nursing, etc.
You do not have free access to specialists and/or hospital care. The family doctor will refer you if you need specialist care. Nearly all specialists have consulting hours in hospitals, at the outpatients clinic (Polikliniek). You can only be referred to a specialist by your general practitioner.
You should not be afraid to ask for information or services that you want or feel comfortable with. If you do not agree with your doctor’s assessment, you do have the right to a second opinion. However, check first to see if your health insurance will cover this. It is normal that children also go to the family doctor. Pediatricians normally see children with special needs or conditions, not healthy children.
The location of your family doctor is related to your registered address. This is to ensure that the practice is located near your home, in case of the need for home visits. To find a family doctor, you can ask around. Colleagues, friends and neighbors may be able to give you recommendations. Another good source of information in your area may be the pharmacy (apotheek). You can also go to the Independer website (in Dutch) to find the nearest family doctor to your home.
Doctors can only accept a certain number of patients by Dutch law. If a doctor has reached their maximum number of patients, you may have to choose a different doctor.
Many family doctors offer an acquaintance consultation in order to discuss your medical history and the organization of the practice.
The medical assistant will inform you about the drop-in hour (spreekuur) as well as what time to call to make appointments or to consult the doctor by telephone. A brochure with this information is available at the doctor’s office (usually only in Dutch).
You normally have to make an appointment in advance and may have to wait a few days to get a slot. Many doctors have daily first-come, first-served sessions (inloop spreekuur) for short phone or drop-in consultations. You might also see the doctor’s assistant (for blood pressure readings, urine testing, injections) or practice nurse (for monitoring chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes.)
If you call your doctor’s practice during off hours (nights, weekends and holidays), you will get a message (in Dutch) giving you the name and number of the doctor on duty in your area. There is always medical coverage during off hours. Pharmacies follow the same policy regarding off hours.