The Dutch word for family doctor or GP is huisarts – which literally translates into ‘house doctor’. This does not mean that he or she will come to your house if you are sick; you are expected to make an appointment and go see him (or her). Huisartsen do make house calls in the case of emergencies; either after hours or during specifically allotted hours in their schedule. The name ‘neighborhood doctor’ would have been closer to the truth, as most people in the Netherlands go to a GP in their neighborhood. Many doctors share an office location and take turns covering after hours and weekends. Some of these offices are located near (or even in) a hospital, for your convenience.


The best place to start looking for a GP is in fact in your neighborhood – and the way to find out which doctor lives in your neighborhood is to visit your gemeentehuis, or city/town hall. There you can ask for a gemeentegids (a booklet issued by your municipality containing information on just about everything relevant to the town or city you live in, such as doctors, schools, lawyers, health clubs, day care, churches, etc.), which will have a list of all the local GPs.


Once you have settled on a GP, ask him if you can meet to discuss your needs and expectations and to establish compatibility – especially as you are from abroad and might have different expectations. You must register in advance with a GP, as otherwise you may have difficulty finding someone who can see you on short notice, should you become ill.


If you have any medical or psychological questions, ailments, or if you need help, your GP will be the first one you call. Some GPs have walk-in consultation hours, usually early in the morning; you simply go to the GP’s office, sit down in the waiting room with the other patients, and await your turn. Other doctors only see you by appointment. You call in, make an appointment for the same or the next day – and come at the agreed hour. Unless the doctor has been called out on an emergency, you will probably not have to wait more than 15 minutes. Sometimes you can only call to make an appointment in the morning.

For simple questions, or to request a refill for your prescription, most doctors have a telefonische spreekuur, whereby you can call in and speak to the doctor (or, at times, his assistant, who has followed special training) with your question or request. However, most GPs do not necessarily volunteer any extra information.  If you are feeling a little insecure about your illness, or would like some background information, do not hesitate to ask your questions.


The GP, if he thinks you need more specialized expertise (or if you think you do), will refer you to a specialist. Most often, this will be someone at the nearest hospital. He will give you a referral notice (containing, among others, a history of your ailment) for the hospital and specialist he feels you should see. This does not mean that you do not have a say in what (type of) specialist you get to see or which hospital you would like to go to. Most GPs are quite flexible and all you have to do is say what (or who) it is you want.

Side Note
Keep in mind that, for your insurer to cover the expenses involved in your visit to the specialist, they will want to see a copy of the referral notice  – so you have no choice but to visit your GP first! If you want to see a specialist without a referral, this is possible, but it might be more difficult to schedule an ap­­pointment and you might need to cover the costs yourself. International insurance policies (rather than local Dutch ones) may have different rules regarding specialist referrals, so consult your specific policy to be sure of what to expect.


Should you have a medical emergency of the type that requires first aid, you can go straight to the hospital to the SEH (Spoed­eisende Hulp), or in some hospitals that have not yet updated to the current term, EHBO (Eerste Hulp bij Ongelukken – First Aid) for assistance. Nowadays, certain regional hospitals no longer offer first aid services. They expect you go to your GP who will do the stitching up or – in case of procedure he cannot perform, such as putting on a cast – will send you to a hospital that does do this. In the case of other types of emergencies, you can either dial 1-1-2 (the emergency telephone line), or you can call your GP, who – if he feels you should indeed head straight for the hospital – will call ahead to the hospital and make sure someone is aware of the problem and is ready to receive you.

Should you have an emergency and need the police, the fire department or an ambulance, the national number for all services in Holland is: 1-1-2


If your GP is away he or she will leave a taped message in Dutch giving you the number of an on-duty doctor. The taped message might also give you the number of the emergency line, the doktersdienst. The actual name of the doktersdienst depends on where you live, as does the telephone number. Once you dial this number, they will ask what your problem is and where you live, after which they will give you the telephone number of a doctor on duty near you, or have a doctor call you.


Another alternative is the so-called Regionale Huisartsenpost. Often, (most of) the GPs in a particular regional area have joined forces to cover the evenings, nights and weekends. To consult a doctor outside of office hours, all you need to do is call one central number. The phone will be answered by a doctor’s assistant or GP, and together you can determine if you need to see a doctor. In that case, you can visit the Huisartsenpost or, if this is not possible, a doctor will visit you.


If your GP or specialist decides you will need medication, he will give you a prescription (recept). If you live in a country where you leave the doctor’s office with a prescription for at least three types of medicine no matter what you have, then you had best be prepared. As mentioned earlier, when it comes to your standard afflictions, Dutch doctors have great confidence in your immune system’s ability to deal with your unwanted invaders adequately.

Of course, serious problems will be given serious attention and commensurate medication. Prescription drugs are filled at an apotheek (pharmacy). They computerize your prescriptions and keep a close watch on the drugs you are taking in order to avoid drug interaction. Many bill your insurance company directly for the costs of prescription medicine.


Another thing to be aware of is that general medical check-ups are, on the whole, not carried out in the Netherlands. There are no annual blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood-sugar tests. You can request them, if you like, but you would have to list exactly what you want – and sometimes even argue your case. This may be surprising, but rather than expending your energy on being frustrated, you might as well do the practical thing: either persist, or have these tests carried out while you are visiting your home country.

In the bigger cities, you may perhaps be able to find (an international) medical center that does offer these tests.


Under the new 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. Be aware that Dutch insurance policies always include an amount that you will need to pay yourself, in addition to your monthly or yearly premium (a deductible, called eigen risico). The specific amount changes every year.


If you need to see a dentist, eye doctor, physical therapist, need other help with physical disabilities, or need advice on your sexual health, ask your GP for recommendations. For more information see Other Medical Issues

Recommended reading

This publication concisely covers a wide range of health topics from birth to death, insurance to legal rights, home care to hospitals, and special services to social services

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