Sweden’s National Health Care

When I am talking to friends and family from home I am frequently asked about Sweden’s national health care.

We haven’t had much interaction with the medical system yet but here is the skinny so far:

Kids get free dental care until the age of 18 (or something like that). Once they registered Mei-mei and Jie-jie in the system (which happened with the assignment of their personnummers) we received loads of letters from various national and local governmental offices. Among these forms were some health questionnaires which asked us to select the health clinic we wanted as our primary clinic and another form that asked us to select a dentist. In both cases there were loads of options close by and centrally located and we made our choices. Shortly thereafter we received a letter from the dental clinic that assigned the children a time to come in for their first dental visit. At the appointed time we went to the dental clinic. It was clean and modern and well-staffed. They saw both children on time and they did a great job with both of them. They said that the children should be seen again in 6 months and they said that they would send a letter with appointment times for them. It is expected that kids and their parents should be freed from school and work for such appointments.

We have yet to have the kids in to the doctor. I have used the medical system, however. According to their schedule, I was ready for my first mammogram. I received a letter in the mail, informing me that it was time for my exam, when I was scheduled to come in and telling me how much it would cost (25 USD). I showed up at the appointed time, they checked my ID, saw me right away and 10 minutes later I was out the door.

Though I have only limited experience with medicine here and the rest of the information I have acquired by asking around, I get the sense that there are a few major differences between Sweden and the U.S. in terms of general/routine health care.

First, folks don’t necessarily go in for annual physicals like Americans lucky enough to have access to preventative health care do. There is a schedule for when you should see the doctor and what for. They contact you to tell you to come in. You have online access to the medical system so you can see what routine care you have coming up, you can look over your own medical history and records, you can make appointments and change the ones they have assigned you. It isn’t completely free but it is very inexpensive and there are caps on your out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, it is like having really prime U.S. medical insurance – the kind where you pay 20 dollars to see the doctor and know that it about the end of it.

Second, it is a centralized system administered through clinics so I definitely do not get the sense that you establish relationships with set doctors that you see again and again. Instead of depending upon individual care providers or a team of doctors, you rely on the national institution.

Third, if you feel you need to see a doctor for something, one of the first things most people do is go to the pharmacy. Many drugs that require a prescription in the U.S. are available over the counter here and pharmacists actually play a role in recommending medicines and other treatments. Case in point. My ears had been bugging me. I was telling people that I may need to see the doctor. They recommended that I start with the pharmacist. So, I went to the pharmacy (they are all over the place). I explained my symptoms to the pharmacist and she gave me some generic nasonex and extra strength ibuprofin. I had to pay a little something but just a few dollars. If that hadn’t worked, I would have called the health bureau and been assigned a doctor’s appointment in the next couple of days.

Universal health care. I have no complaints.

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