Health care in the Netherlands - Part 2

Once it has been agreed that you should see a specialist and you have your referral notice, you call the number on the notice and make an appointment. This could be for the same week or a few weeks later, depending on the waiting list and the urgency of the situation.

Your first visit to the hospital

In the Netherlands, most specialists work out of hospitals and not private clinics. When you come to visit him / her at the hospital, you look for the sign Poliklinieken, and the correct department.

If this is your first visit to the hospital, you register at the front desk. There you will be asked a few initial questions (your name, address, insurance company, general practitioner (GP), and a few other questions).

This information will go into the computer and also onto a little credit card-sized plastic card, called a ponsplaatje or an electronische patiëntenpas, which you must bring with you every time you go to the hospital as it is used, among others, to find your records, mark forms, send your bills to your insurance company, and to print out labels for lab tests.

At the counter of the Polikliniek, you give the referral notice and the envelope containing a short description of your ailment to the assistant who will past it on to the specialist before you go in.

Seeing the specialist

In many cases, the first visit will not last more than five to ten minutes. Its purpose is to determine whether indeed there will be a need for further diagnosis and / or treatment - after which you can make a new date in the (near) future, or will be sent straight to the laboratory for tests. Or, as the case may be, you might be referred to a different specialist.

All the hospitals in the Netherlands have the latest in technology and specialisations, so that going to one hospital is as good as going to the next. Some hospitals, however, specialise in certain conditions / ailments and can be expected to be up-to-date on all the newest developments and to have the latest medical equipment, so ask your GP whether there is a hospital that is specialised in your condition.


Should you require first aid, you can go straight to the hospital to the EHBO (Eerste Hulp bij Ongelukken - First Aid) for assistance. You can also call your GP, who - if he feels you should indeed head straight for the hospital - will call ahead to the hospital to warn them of your imminent arrival. For an ambulance, call 112 (the emergency telephone line).

Medication & The pharmacy

The GP can recommend medication and give you a prescription (recept), which you can take to the pharmacy. At the pharmacy, they take down your insurance company and personal data and enter the medication you have been given into a computer. This way they can ensure that you do not take conflicting medication.

Health care insurance

Under the 2006 insurance law, you have a choice between taking out health care insurance "in kind" (natura) or based on "restitution" (restitutie). In the latter case, you will have to pay your medical bills yourself and then ask you insurance company for a restitution, in the former, the insurance company will pay your medical bills directly.

The insurance market is a pretty competitive one, so do some comparison shopping, taking into account issues such as dental care, own risk, coverage in case of accident or illness abroad, alternative therapies, physical therapy and psychotherapy. It is best to do this with the help of someone who is fluent in Dutch - or, for instance, your company’s HR department, or your relocation agent.

Staying at the hospital

When you are admitted to a hospital, you will go through your entire medical history, particularly if you are going to be operated on. You may even find yourself going through your whole history three times: with the admitting doctor, with the anaesthesiologist and with the doctor who will be operating you. Anything vital, such as allergies to medication, is definitely worth repeating each time.

While all hospitals have children’s wards, there are also several excellent children’s hospitals throughout the country. You can give your GP your preference.

This is the second part of the "Health Care: You are in Good Hands" article written by Stephanie Dijkstra, editor-in-chief of The XPat Journal. Have a look at the current issue or subscribe here.

Previous in the series
 Health care in the Netherlands - Part 1

Next in the series
 Health care in the Netherlands - Part 3

Stephanie Dijkstra


Stephanie Dijkstra

Stephanie Dijkstra is a Third Culture Kid in every possible way. Raised in four countries by Dutch/American parents, both of whom also grew up in several countries, the world is...

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