Friday, January 14, 2011

The Norwegian health care system

First, a caveat: this is just my personal experience, I don't intend to judge the entire system based on it.

Well, as a foreigner, after moving to Norway you need to register at the police. In my case this was fast 3-4 days, but in A.'s case it took over a month. Once it is approved you need to apply for a personal number. Then wait for 2-3 months and you finally get it. Next step, you enroll in the health care system and pick a doctor. I asked a few people how to pick a doctor (they give you a list of available doctors in a given location and the number of patients he or she has) and they said it depends on whether you want a woman or a man, and location. I said I just wanted one that spoke English and they all replied not to worry, they all do. So I picked one (foreign sounding name, average number of patients) and set up an appointment (2 weeks in advance). If you are counting, I moved here in August and finally got an appointment late November.
On the day of the appointment I get out of work early, head to the doctor and the secretary tells me that the doctor had to run out and is a bit late. I asked how late and she said 5 min. I waited for 45min and then finally caught the doctor between patients to ask when she'd see me. Surprise, surprise... she does not speak English (and I thought a foreign sounding name would...). In the mean time the secretary (who speaks English and knows I don't speak Norwegian) has left for the day. So the leaving patient helps translate as the doctor asks me to come back the next day so that the secretary can help translate. I guess this is where I should have changed doctors (you are allowed to do so once a year) but I didn't...

Next day comes, I go back to the doctor, wait for 1 hour and then I finally see the doctor. First she wants to charge me for the appointment I missed yesterday. I explain that I was here at the given time, she wasn't and that I left because I needed a translator and she told me to come back today. She finally agrees. Then I explain that I want to do a test to see if I have a blood clotting disorder that runs in my family. I mean, I know I don't have it, but I want to know if my (potential) kids could have it. She says "yes, yes", doesn't ask me any other questions and sends me off with the secretary to get a blood sample. Before leaving I ask the secretary and she says she will let me know when the results come in.

3 weeks later, no results, I decide to call. The secretary answers, finds the results and says: "It says it is ok". I ask: "What is ok? Yes or no?". Secretary: "Result is ok.". "What does that mean?". "Well, if you want to know what that means you have to come in for an appointment." Appointment scheduled for last week.

On Friday I show up at the doctor's office and a different (much nicer) secretary asks me to wait. An hour drags by... And then I'm called in and explain I've come to get the results of the blood test. The doctor logs into the computer, finds my file and announces (through translation): "The test was not done because the procedure has changed and they need a different sample". Now, why did the secretary tell me the results were ok??? I know this is not life threatening for me, but what if it was a different test and she gave out false results?? I breathe in... out... And the doctor says she doesn't know what type of test, and would have to consult a hematologist. I ask if I can go to the hematologist instead, or the hospital where they would do the test directly but am strictly told that this is not possible. So I should come back on Monday, but I don't even need to wait in line, all that is needed is a quick phone call to the hospital and a blood sample. Sigh...

Monday comes, I go to the office (mid morning), explain the situation to the secretary (the one that gave me false results), she's dismissive and asks me to wait. An hour later I ask if the doctor has called the hospital and she says that the doctor is busy. Finally I'm called in, just to have the doctor announce (through translation) that I will have to do the test at the hospital directly. So she gives me a form with the request for the test and I leave thinking that I should have changed doctors earlier in the process (it would take 2 weeks to change names in the system and another 2 weeks to set an appointment, so I don't think an extra month is worth it) but maybe, just maybe, I can now get the damn results!

I call the hospital to check where I need to go and finally find someone that knows about the test I need to do, and explains that indeed it is a blood test and that I can walk in at the hospital and get the test done any day. So I did... and asked the lady how I'd get the results. She said they will be sent to your doctor (horror strikes my face) and she will notify you... Now what?????????


  1. Awww sorry you have to deal with all this!

    One of the thing I LOVE about India is that you don't need appointment to see most Dr, and that whatever test you are requested to do or want to do on your own they recognize that the patient is the first one to have the right to see the result so you are the only one allowed to pick up the result directly at the lab section of the clinic, and they always make a point to print the result with tolerance range so you can check where you fit. In Switzerland everything went through the Dr who would never tell you the results unless something about it was bad enough to let you know.

  2. you need to find a close girlfriend/colleague that can translate and be a guide to this insane system! i'm sure thats how many people feel navigating a new system, but even more stressed of course because it's THEIR HEALTH. good luck!

  3. Thanks for the comments... I just hope I can get my hands on these results!
    And :), I will address your comment about finding close friends here in my next post!

  4. I think it sounds like you need to change your doctor. You can do that twice a year plus every time you move. They change the number of times you can change doctor per year, because if people get to change to often, drug addicts start "shopping around" to find one who is a soft touch for pills.

    This is where you go to find information on avaliable doctors:

    You should ask around, talking to people you know, to find out who is good, or to your taste. Older people often have a good amount of knowledge, their peergroup normally use the doctor more than the younger. Also just ring up the office to see if they speak english.

  5. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks a lot for the info. My only question is whether I can change in the middle of these tests (whether the new doctor would receive the results for example) or if I should wait until this episode is over...