Monday 15 August 2022

The Dutch medical system is terrible in new and creative ways

A visual representation of how I was treated by the doctor’s office. Photo: Depositphotos

Our regular columnist Molly Quell just wanted to refill a prescription and ended up in a circle of hell even Dante could not have envisioned. 

The trouble started over a year ago. I attempted to log into the patient portal to request a repeat prescription. The website informed me that I had no profile. I called the office and, after being on hold for 20 minutes, I was rudely informed I wasn’t a patient at the practice. ‘I’ve been a patient there for years and I haven’t changed doctors,’ I insisted. I was curtly informed my file had been transferred to another practice and was hung up on.

This wasn’t the first time I had had issues with this doctor’s office. Longtime readers of DutchNews may recall a certain case of mistaken identity I experienced with this doctor. So I had long been considering changing. I vaguely recognised the name of the other doctor the assistant mentioned. It was a new practice and, months earlier, I recalled I had filled out a form to indicate I might be interested in becoming a new patient. I had never received any follow-up.

I called that office and was told, by a much nicer woman, that I wasn’t registered there, I hadn’t filled out any forms to be registered there, I needed to inform my current doctor before they would transfer my file and, sadly, their practice was full and was not taking new patients.

Back to my original doctor I went. After being on hold again and explaining the entire story again, the woman asked me if I wanted to be ‘reregistered’ with the practice. I believe in picking my battles so I just said yes.

An unending nightmare

Three months later, when I again needed a refill, we went through the same thing. They said I wasn’t registered, I said I was, they said they had transferred my file, I said they hadn’t and eventually, after some haggling, they called in my refill. This went on every three months for a year. Looking back on this now, it seems unhinged. I don’t know how I let it go on for so long. I’m a millennial who hates calling people. Life gets in the way. Anyway, it’s not the point.

In the autumn of 2021, I was told that I needed to meet with the doctor to have my prescription refilled. She listed some available times that I could come in for an appointment. ‘Can’t this be done over the phone?’ I asked. ‘No that wasn’t possible,’ I was told.

‘You are aware there is a whole pandemic going on right?’ I pushed back. The government had just announced more restrictions to curb a rising tide of cases. After some discussion, the gatekeeper of my refill conceded that I could do it this time over the phone, but next time I had to physically come in.

My boyfriend put his foot down. ‘You need a different doctor.’ Turns out, where I live nearly all the primary care doctors are not taking new patients. I called, emailed, researched, Googled and then I gave up. I barely saw the doctor anyway. I could live with this.

My white knight

The next time I needed a refill, they once again said I wasn’t a patient but, after being convinced I was, sent my prescription to the wrong pharmacy and then refused to change it. No mention of needing to speak with a doctor. ‘Take a hint,’ my boyfriend said and then spent several hours finding me a practice that was taking new patients. He is a saint.

I, after hyping myself up to get over my belangst, called that doctor and was cheerfully informed that I could have a phone call with the doctor next week to see if things were a good fit. What did that mean? Should I undersell my health problems? Oversell them? Be funny? Casually mention that I was verified on Twitter?

‘What practice are you coming from?’ she asked me. When I told her, she laughed. ‘I think you’re the third person this week from there.’ She told me her assistant would send over some forms I would need to fill in and sign so they could request my medical files from my old doctor and then I could be enrolled.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Except we did not.

Two weeks after I sent my forms, I called to asked about a medication refill. I was registered with the practice, but my old doctor hadn’t sent my file. ‘You should call them,’ the assistant told me. ‘I would rather eat herring,’ I thought.

I suspect everyone can guess what I was told when I called. After being very insistent, they agreed to send the file, promising it would be done in 2-3 days. I left for a work trip, then had a week of holiday and when I returned, I had a letter from the Bevolkingsonderzoek baarmoederhalskanker telling me that I needed to get my cervix prodded. I called my new doctor to make the appointment and was told they would be happy to, but they didn’t had received my patient file.

I went to war. There was yelling. There were vague threats. There were less than vague threats. There was probably even some name-calling on both sides. It took 28 phone calls and six emails before my new doctor finally confirmed my file had been transferred. Finally, there was much rejoicing.

The following day, my new doctor’s office called. ‘Uh, so it seems Old Doctor has said you’re returning as a patient there and to transfer your file. I am pretty sure that’s not correct,’ the assistant said.

In that moment, I understood how human beings are capable of doing such atrocious things to one another.

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