Some medical conditions require a specific type of professional attention and treatment. If you develop such a condition in the Netherlands, your GP may suggest that you visit a Dutch medical specialist. This page will explain how you should prepare for your visit, how you can cover the costs, and what your experience might entail.


Your insurance company may be able to cover the costs of your specialist medical treatment in the Netherlands. There are several ways to get insurance coverage:

  1. You can send your insurer a copy of the referral notice from your GP. This will prove that you are in need of the treatment, and they will pay your medical bill
  2. The Dutch hospital can bill your insurer on your behalf. When you go into hospital for your appointment, you might be asked to hand your referral notice to your specialist’s assistant. In this case, the hospital will keep your referral notice. They will forward a copy of it to your insurer, along with the bill
  3. You can pay the bill yourself, and ask your insurance company to reimburse you. In this case, you will have to send your insurer a copy of the referral notice yourself. Then, they will pay you back


Getting an Appointment

When your doctor decides that you should see a medical specialist, this is what will happen first:

  • Your GP will issue you a referral for seeing the correct type of Dutch medical specialist
  • They will write the specialist’s phone number on the referral notice
  • You will have to phone the specialist yourself to make an appointment at a time that is convenient for you
  • You could be given an appointment to see a specialist on the same day as your doctor’s appointment, or it could be scheduled for a few months later. This is dependent on the type of treatment you need, and the urgency of your condition
  • Usually, you will not be required to provide details of your’s and your family’s entire medical history either before or during your appointment with the specialist. However, this is dependant on your individual situation and your ailment. There may be some information it would be useful for your specialist to know about. So, it is best to prepare for this by having your medical records in order before the visit

Side Note

Without a Referral

It is possible to see a specialist without a referral if you would like to. However, there are a few drawbacks:

  • It might be more difficult to schedule an appointment
  • You might have to cover the costs yourself
  • If you have an International insurance policy, rather than a local Dutch one, it could have different rules regarding specialist referrals. So, you should look carefully over your policy, to see what kind of coverage you are entitled to

Once your appointment is set up, the process of visiting your medical specialist in the Netherlands will go as follows:

1. Polikliniek and Ponsplaatje

In the Netherlands, most specialists work out of hospitals rather than private clinics. So, when it is time for your appointment, here is what you need to do, and what you should anticipate:

  • If you have never visited the hospital before, you first need to register at the front desk
  • Ask the staff at the desk for directions to the department you need. When you have found it, look for a sign saying: ‘Poliklinieken’. This translates as ‘outpatient clinics’
  • You will be asked a few initial questions at the ‘polikliniek’. For example, you may need to give them your name, address, the name of your insurer, your GP, and a few other pieces of information
  • The staff will put this information into their computer system and onto a small, credit card-sized plastic card. This card is called a ‘ponsplaatje’, which translates as ‘punch card
  • You must bring your ‘ponsplaatje’ with you every time you visit the hospital. The hospital needs it in order to find your records, mark your forms, send bills to your insurance company, and print out labels for your lab tests


Electronic Punch Cards

  • Many hospitals are in the process of replacing the ponsplaatje with an electronic card, called an ‘electronische patiëntenpas’
  • This card will contain all your medical data
  • Some hospitals use neither a ponsplaatje nor an electronische patiëntenpas. Therefore, you should always ask what kind of system they have at the information desk, when you first arrive at a new Dutch hospital

2. At your Appointment

When the time for your appointment finally arrives, here is what you can expect:

  • Once you have found the correct room for your appointment, you will be asked to give your referral notice to the medical specialist’s assistant
  • They may also ask you to hand in an envelope, containing a short description of your ailment. This helps the specialist to gain some preliminary insight into your condition
  • When you meet your medical specialist, he or she will read the note from your GP and discuss your condition with you
  • If there is any information you think may be of importance, be sure to mention it in this appointment. You should tell the medical specialist about, for example: any former illnesses you have had, hereditary afflictions and allergies to medication

Straight Talking Specialists

  • This is also the ideal time to ask the specialist any questions you have about your condition
  • It is important to note that, like Dutch doctors, Dutch medical specialists are straightforward! They will probably not push you to talk to them about any queries or concerns you have. Hence, if there is something you want to talk about, you need to bring it up. For example, if you expect a particular type of treatment or medicine, discuss this with them

Tests and Treatment

  • The specialist will then arrange any necessary tests, and prescribe you some treatment
  • When these tests and treatments take place is dependent on how serious your illness is, and how urgently you require medical attention. If the specialist deems it necessary, you may be immediately referred to an emergency room of the hospital, or sent straight to the laboratories for blood tests


Assistant Specialists in NL

Be aware that, although you have been referred to a specialist, in many cases the person you speak to at your appointment will be an assistant specialist. This is more likely to be the case at your initial appointment. This means that he or she will either be in training, or may simply be working as an assistant within the practice.

Usually, you will not know what level of expertise the person you meet has, unless you ask them. It is not rude to do this, so do not be afraid to!

3. Arranging Hospitalization

If you need to be hospitalized immediately, your medical specialist will make the appropriate calls and arrangements to ensure that the doctors on duty are prepared to receive you

If Hospitalization is not Urgent

  • Your specialist might decide that you need to be hospitalized at some point in the future
  • He or she might realize that some further steps need to be taken before you are admitted to hospital for treatment
  • You might need to have a further appointment with the specialist themselves, or with a different type of medical specialist
  • In either case, you will be sent to the specialist’s secretary, or the central appointment office, to make the necessary arrangements

Admittance to Hospital

  • When you are admitted to hospital, you will be visited by the hospital doctors, and maybe even your own GP
  • Alternatively, your GP might pay you a house-call, when you have returned home, following your treatment

Recommended reading

The Access guide to Healthcare in the Netherlands

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


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