Why it is sometimes necessary to be a pain in the ass

When you move to Amsterdam for a long-term stay, you will have to purchase at least a base level of Dutch health insurance. This is mandatory by law, and you must do so within four months upon arrival, even when you are insured for healthcare in your homeland, too.

The next step is to register with a local general practitioner’s practice. GPs are the first point of contact for healthcare in the Netherlands. They provide referrals to all specialists and hospitals and give you the necessary prescriptions.

Or at least that’s how the system is designed to work.

The reality is that many people, not in the least internationals, struggle to get in contact with their GP.

  • They do not feel heard.
  • They do not understand how they can get their message across in so little time.
  • They walk out of the door unsatisfied and unclear about what to do next.

Isn’t this one of those moments that it is especially important when trying to receive the help you are asking for?

You don’t feel well, you need a prescription, you have doubts about a physical matter, you need to see a specialist, and your well-being depends on the willingness and capability of the health expert to be of help.

Often, this willingness and/or capacity seems hard to find. I realised through my own experience again how harsh this can be last month when I met a few GPs.

When I came back from a beautiful walk in the forest, I found a tick on my upper leg. I found out after I unknowingly scratched it off and the little fellow had already bit me. I fell ill that week (coincidence?) and I went to my GP. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he assured me. Only 5% of ticks carry the Lyme bacteria. After 6 weeks, the bite was still visible in the form of a red spot, and it was growing – not a good sign.

I went back to the GP again. Because of the summer holiday, I was sent through to a replacement GP. After waiting for 45 minutes in the waiting room, he attended me from behind his laptop. He threw me some questions which left me puzzled. He didn’t look at me and wasn’t planning on looking at the bite, either. Luckily, my partner accompanied me and insisted that the GP take a look.

Tip #1: Whenever possible, take someone you trust with you. Your usual level of assertiveness might be lowered because you feel worried about your condition, or your physical situation may prevent you from being clear in the head. Moreover, even though GPs speak English, this is not a moment when you want cultural assumptions or language misinterpretations get in the way of clarity. Bring a local who speaks Dutch.

With no time to ask questions, I was standing outside again after a few minutes more confused than before. Again, I was told that nothing was wrong. But it didn’t feel that way to me.

Tip #2: Always trust your body more than your GP. When you don’t feel at ease after seeing your GP, keep searching until you do. It is usually your body telling you something needs attention.

The only good thing we did in those few minutes was annoy him enough to give us a referral for a dermatologist. The dermatologist at the hospital had a waiting list. After some Google searching about Lyme disease, I decided I didn’t want to wait, and I found a specialised skin hospital who could attend me in two days’ time. The dermatologist took one look at the tick bite and said I needed a long course of antibiotics immediately.

Tip #3: When you feel that your issue requires fast action, do not settle for a ‘no, we cannot attend you on short notice.’ Consider alternatives. Keep on searching and asking.

This is only the short version of the travel I made last month through the healthcare system in order to get a solution to a relatively simple problem. Even though I speak Dutch, communicate very clearly and know how the system works, it is still very possible to go wrong.

Here’s my last and most important tip:

Tip #4: Be a pain in the ass in case you have a GP that wants to send you away before listening to you. Become outspoken, unkind and impolite if you have to.

In this article, I am obviously generalising GPs. There are some very empathic, thoughtful and caring GPs. And if they aren’t, it might be because of the structure they have to function in. However, understandable or not, the most important priority is that you get what you need. It is about YOUR health, your most precious resource.

You are welcome to comment or contact me for more information on healthcare in the Amsterdam region. Email me at mirjam@expat-life.com.

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