My First Experience with Dutch Healthcare

24 Oct

Here in the Netherlands, insurance is mandatory. It’s not provided by the government, but instead by private companies, with rules and regulations tightly enforced by the government. I’ve been paying my monthly insurance dues, about €105, for over a year now. I guess subconsciously, I figured it was time to put some of that money to use.

Sunday, while riding my wife’s bike (mine had a flat tire, I was riding hers to HEMA to get a patch kit to fix it), I suffered a mishap. This particular mishap had me flying through the air, over the handlebars, and landing quite roughly on a brick-paved street. 2 kindly strangers walked up to help me, and when I noticed blood pouring down my face, they helpfully added “I think you will need a stitch!” Luckily, I was right in front of my apartment building, so I went up and let Roxy know what had happened. I think the conversation went something like this:

Me: I need help.
Roxy: What?
Me: I need help.
Roxy: Why do you….(notices the blood)…OH MY GOD!

I got cleaned up a bit, and we walked down to wait for Tram 7 to take us to the hospital. Of course, this particular tram was either more than 5 minutes early, or decided to take the day off, so we stood on the street for about 20 minutes until a bus came. We would have called a taxi, but we had no cash.

Now, I was interested to see how things would work at a Dutch hospital. In the US, talking heads deride European healthcare as slow, out of date, insufficiently staffed, too bureaucratic, and of course, the worst word of all, “socialist.” While living in the US, I had to visit the emergency room once, and take my wife there 2 times. Let’s compare the experiences, shall we?

1st visit: I cut my toe in a lawn-mowing accident. My wife drives me to Saint Louis University Hospital. The intake nurse takes my info, and has me sit in the waiting room. For 2 hours. With blood gushing out of my shoe. When I am finally called to see the triage nurse, he is shocked that I was left to sit out there for so long. I am sent to a bed where a Doctor and a med-student quickly fix me up. Oh, I should add that the emergency room is on the 2nd floor of the building, and there is not an elevator anywhere near the door they direct you to. When you can barely walk, this is a problem. Total time from walking in the door until leaving: About 3 hours.

2nd visit: Roxy gets in a car-accident. Her window shatters, and the paramedics tell her to go to the hospital to have shards of glass removed from her skin. We go to Barnes-Jewish, one of the most well-respected hospitals in the Midwestern USA. We arrive, sign in, and sit down to wait. After 15 minutes, the triage nurse calls us up. She asks Roxy if I have been hitting her. Roxy assures her that I have not been. We are sent to a small hospital room where Roxy lays down. And we wait. And wait. And wait. This is in the days before Smartphones were common, and there is no TV in the room. After almost 2 and a half hours, sometime finally comes to see us. Total time from entrance to exit: Over 3 hours.

3rd visit: Roxy trips over the dog while walking down the stairs at our house. We decide to see if a smaller hospital will be better, as Barnes-Jewish and Saint Louis University are both quite large hospitals, used to dealing with gunshots and all manner of injury. We pick St. Mary’s, across the street from where Roxy used to work. We arrive, and are quickly seen by the triage nurse. We sit and wait for a bit before the hospital opens a “Fast Track” ER, where we are directed. There is only 1 other person in the “Fast Track” waiting room. “Sweet!”, we think, “We’ll be in and out in a flash!” Wrong. We wait, and then wait some more. Never is Roxy asked if I abuse her. (Side note: Which sounds more likely to be a potential domestic abuse situation: broken glass embedded in the skin from a car accident, or accidentally falling down the stairs? Yeah, I thought so). Roxy is finally seen, and discharged with a brace and crutches. Total time: About 3 hours.

Dutch hospital: We walk in the door and register with the intake nurse. She chastises us for not having a family doctor. We sit down to wait. 10 minutes later, we are called in to see the triage nurse. She cleans the wound, takes my medical history, and then walks me to a small hospital room with a bed. About 15 minutes later, a Doctor and a nurse show up. They test me for a concussion, ask some questions, and look at the wound. The doctor tells the nurse what to do, and leaves. The nurse applies glue to my head to stop the bleeding, shakes me hand, and tells me to come back if I have problems. Total time from entrance to exit: 35 minutes.

Hooray for “socialist” healthcare!


Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Life in the Dam


5 responses to “My First Experience with Dutch Healthcare

  1. Alison

    October 24, 2011 at 12:04

    I hope you’re healing and glad to know you had such a positive experience.

    I don’t have much to compare, since I never really went to the doctor in the US, and had no emergencies, but when I did have to go to a doctor here, I was amazed by how easy it all was, especially compared to the nightmare stories I hear from friends in the US. We started with the pharmacy to see if they sold the medicine I needed OTC. They didn’t, and since we didn’t have a family doctor yet, the pharmacy called up to the doctor’s office above the pharmacy and asked if they could see me. Sure! I went up, waited a few minutes, was taken in and dealt with efficiently and that was that. The doctor even called the next day to make sure I was still doing ok and to make sure I had understood the directions on the medicine.

  2. Invader_Stu

    October 24, 2011 at 18:20

    It’s the same for Dutch vs. English hospitals. When I broke my ankle I was in and out with in 30mins and it’s not as if they rushed or did a bad job. They did a great job with the cast. Although it’s funny you should mention the chastising thing because that happened to me too. The receptionist thought I should be going to see my family doctor first for what she assumed was just a twisted ankle. She looked very embarrassed when I was wheeled out again with my cast. Hehe.

  3. Erin

    October 25, 2011 at 05:11

    I’m just wondering where these nasty rumors about 3-month waiting periods started in the first place. Every American I’ve spoken with who has been seen by a medical provider abroad has had nothing but good things to say. This is why I don’t watch or read the news!

  4. gingagma

    October 25, 2011 at 22:09

    Love it, that’s such a Roxy response!!

  5. alison

    November 9, 2011 at 00:06

    My daughter had a baby in Ireland. This is probably where the nasty rumors about a 3-month waiting period comes from. After she found out she was pregnant she was assigned a hospital. She wrote a letter to the hospital telling them what she thought her due date is. They saw her at about 4 months. At 7 months they thought something might be wrong with the baby and scheduled her for an emergency sonogram. The waiting list for an emergency sonogram – two months. During her entire pregnancy and delivery, she never saw a doctor. The result: a perfect grandchild. But not really the way you want to experience it. A lot of Eastern European people immigrate to Ireland to have babies. A lot of Irish people try to have their babies when they are in the United States.


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