It was a gloomy report that the Dutch Healthcare Authority (NZa) released at the end of August: ‘We see no signs of a decrease in waiting times.’ The hospitals are unable to get rid of the waiting lists, which largely arose during the corona crisis. Even in the traditionally quieter summer months, the waiting lists remained what they were. And so about 100 thousand extra people – on top of the usual waiting lists – are waiting for an operation or treatment. Still, don’t worry, because you do have options yourself to shorten waiting times.
Look around yourself
‘My first tip would be’, says Dianda Veldman, director of the Patient Federation, ‘to call the hospital yourself. Feel free to call a few times and ask a little more. It sometimes happens that someone falls out, or that there is a hole somewhere. Here too the following applies: brutal ones have half the world.’
Also look around yourself, for example on Zorgkaart Nederland, which is updated every two weeks with the latest waiting times. It soon becomes apparent that waiting times for each treatment can vary enormously. In Capelle aan den IJssel your kidney stones can be removed the same day, in Nieuwegein it takes sixty days. Need eyelid correction? Two days waiting in Veldhoven and Enschede, 47 days waiting in Breda. Ready for a new hip? Five days in The Hague, 45 days in Hardenberg.
If you have a referral from your GP, you can have it converted to the treatment location of your choice. Make sure to check in advance whether the hospital or clinic has a contract with your health insurer, Veldman says, to avoid a high bill or hassle about costs. And of course also try to find out what the quality of the care provider is.
Call the health insurer
This can all be quite complicated, which is why the ‘most powerful tool’ when you are on a waiting list is to call your health insurer. ‘That is far too little known’, says Veldman, ‘but a health insurer has a duty of care if an insured person has to wait too long. The health insurer then has the obligation to offer an alternative.’
That is why every insurer has a care mediation department. The employees there have insight into waiting times across the country, have data on the quality of the institutions, and have the authority to force something for their clients.
‘Last year we received 11,000 requests for waiting list mediation,’ says Ron Kerklaan, manager of care mediation at Zilveren Kruis, the largest health insurer in the Netherlands with 5.1 million customers. ‘In 76 percent of the requests, our customers were able to go elsewhere faster than with their own practitioner. That saved an average of 51 days of waiting time. So it is really worth it, even now that it seems that there is nowhere to go because of the corona aftermath.’
According to Kerklaan, the 37 employees of his department are looking at what is possible together with the insured. ‘Recently we had a man from Limburg, everything was full there. But his son lived in Groningen, so he was fine with going there.’ In that case, Veldman tips, ask whether any control appointments can be made digitally. And calculate what the travel costs are, so that you are not faced with surprises.
The right doctor
We also ask, says Kerklaan, whether people want to go quickly, whether they are willing to travel, or whether they also want to go to an independent treatment center (formerly known as a private clinic). ‘Sometimes people specifically request a child- or elderly-friendly hospital. We also have that information.’
Most requests are about new hips or knees, about eye conditions or about a place with the psychologist. ‘We can’t do much with a complicated procedure, for example in a university hospital. And if someone is already at the right doctor, and the waiting time is already reasonable, then we say honestly: sooner is not possible. Or rather: you can see two weeks earlier, but it might be better to stay with your current doctor.’
After all, the basic principle of care mediation is, says Veldman, ‘that you must be prepared to work with another care provider. If you’re very attached to your own doctor, don’t do it. But otherwise: look beyond your nose, we would like to encourage that.’
Like the woman who wanted to run the New York marathon and got an injury just before that. She saw all her training work go up in smoke. Kerklaan: ‘But we were able to refer her to the Maxima Hospital in Veldhoven, where there is a sports medicine department. Could she still run her marathon?’