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Typical NL: Cautious about treating foreigners in hospitals

 What you absolutely don't want to happen to you while you’re abroad is to get sick. The health system in your own country is probably intimidating and complicated enough, so adding a foreign language, culture and customs to that is no fun at all!

Funnily enough, people – at least in Western countries – seem to believe that their healthcare system is among the best in the world. There are obvious exceptions, such as when you have to wait for weeks to get doctor’s appointment, but since your health is a precious thing, you want to think that you’re getting the best treatment there is. However, healthcare is organised differently in every country, which always gives me a slight feeling that something is not the way it's supposed to be. It's different, so I intuitively assume it must be worse. Rationally, I know that this attitude is absolute hogwash – but it’s difficult to shake off. Which is just another reason why I avoid visiting a doctor when I'm abroad.

One time though, I couldn't avoid it any longer. It was the weekend, the doctor around the corner was closed and since I didn't live far away from the hospital in Maastricht, I went there. The people at the hospital were very friendly and helpful, but then they asked whether I had recently been treated in a foreign hospital. Surely they meant some kind of backwater third-world country and were checking for weird diseases, I assumed, but when I told them about an operation I had had in Germany some months earlier, they explained to me that they would only let me in if it was an absolute emergency. I was outraged: it's only 30 kilometres away, but already too foreign. How ridiculous.

In the end I took the bus to Aachen and went to the very same hospital where I had had my operation. I told them my story, and to my surprise, a German doctor defended the Dutch policy. He explained that it's all to fight Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a bacterium which is, as the name suggests, resistant to medication. These bacteria spread in hospitals and elsewhere, and cause many fatalities among patients all over the world; it's a serious problem, even in Germany. Only very few European countries – including the Netherlands – have managed to contain the bacteria by taking drastic precautions. This is a remarkable achievement.

Yet again, I had gone home to see a doctor: but this time, I knew the treatment in the Netherlands would not merely have been different but (at least with regard to MRSA) better as well.


Tim Aretz



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