General Practitioner (GP)
In the Netherlands, the GP plays an important role in accessing the healthcare system. The GP is the primary physician, compiling medical information and maintaining contact with specialised medical professionals. To secure an appointment with a medical specialist, a verwijsbrief (referral letter) from the GP is required. This ensures that the GP is aware of any health problems and can advise whether specialised care is required and if so, which specialist can possibly offer the best care.
Healthcare insurers may refuse reimbursements without a GP referral letter. This rule does not apply to emergency medical care.
Choosing a doctor
Once registered with the municipality it is important to register with a huisarts (General Practitioner – GP) in the local area. There are online lists of GPs available both nationwide and in the Maastricht Region.
All GPs have the same education and are approved by the authorities in the Netherlands. It is possible to make an appointment to meet a GP and discuss personal requirements before deciding whether to register with their practice. It is always useful to take along medical records for existing conditions.
In the Netherlands, medications are prescribed more cautiously than most countries, especially for antibiotics. As a result, a GP might wait a bit longer when prescribing them. The reason for this is to decrease the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections.
As the healthcare system in the Netherlands is rather restrictive, prescriptions may be required for medicines that can be purchased “over the counter” in other countries. The healthcare insurance provider dictates which medications and brands are covered within each health insurance policy.
In the Netherlands, there is a difference between a drogisterij (such as Etos or Kruidvat) and an apotheek (pharmacy/chemist). Drogisterijen supply non-prescription medications such as mild painkillers and antihistamines, baby supplies, general toiletries and cosmetics. Apotheken (chemists) are the only place where prescription drugs can be obtained. A GP is generally affiliated with several pharmacies located close to their practice and they can send the prescription directly to the chemist on the patient’s behalf, if that patient is registered with the chemist.