My first Swedish doctors appointment was not the experience I expected. When you arrive in Sweden as an immigrant you are given a list of clinics to choose from and sign up to after you receive your personnummer. You are quickly approved to start going to your new health clinic. One of the only things people know about Sweden is that we pay high taxes and in return we get socialized medical coverage – something I looked forward to when I found out I would be moving here, since I hadn’t had medical insurance for almost two years at that point. That being said, I was excited to utilize this aspect of my new Swedish life.
I went in and explained to them that I wanted to be seen since I have not had a check up in about two years. As an immigrant you are given a free one-on-one sit down with a nurse the first time you come in, to talk about your condition, what you are there for, what they provide, and how they can help you. I wasn’t asked to fill out any forms.
The nurse was polite and helpful, but the information she gave me was surprising.
Coming from a country where health care is private and practitioners get paid through their patients or the insurance company (or a combination), I have never dealt with this type of system. The only thing I knew about it was that it is very cheap (Not absolutely free, which is what many people think). However, above all else, this system creates a completely different mentality towards healthcare.
A mentality that upset me until I discussed it more thoroughly and tried to understand. Until then, I felt as though I was politely dismissed or rejected.
The nurse explained to me that a routine “check up” is not the way things are done in Sweden. Also, it would be “very expensive” to run all the tests. That did not surprise me as I have $700-$900 USD for tests with and without insurance in the past. I asked how much, she answered 500-900 Kronor ($70-$130 USD!). I tried not to look shocked or laugh, and said that I don’t mind paying that amount, but the nurse continued explaining.
I was shocked, how does she know that I am healthy? Being young doesn’t automatically mean healthy. Routine check ups tell me that I am healthy! I am used to getting my blood tested and my heart rate checked and ‘the works,’ once a year. How else would you detect if something is wrong?
In Sweden it is only when something is actively bothering you, if you are sick, in pain, or not feeling well- then you go to the doctor. No one comes to just have “tests” done. When you come you pay 150 Kronor (20 bucks) and then all the tests you need for that specific problem will be done.
In Sweden, as soon as something is bothering you, you are more likely to go to the doctor and get checked out without worrying about the price tag. Any tests they need to figure out what is bothering you is covered by that 150 Kronor payment.
Just as it is strange that I want a “check up” for no apparent reason, a doctor in the U.S would think its strange that my husband has never gotten a check-up. Different system, different mentality.
In the U.S. if I don’t feel well, or if something is bothering me, I don’t usually go to the doctor right away- mainly because it is expensive. Sometimes I have been talked into getting more tests done, not understanding the purpose, except seemingly so they can then charge the insurance company. This is both good and bad: more tests means a better chance of finding something which might not have been detected otherwise. But often times, they are extra tests almost identical to others with no benefit.
The argument against socialized health care is that Swedish doctors don’t have a reason to do these extra tests and don’t have the motivation (payment) to do all that can be done for the benefit of the patient.
It also helps that Sweden is of a much better health bracket, so there are less medical problems to worry about. When a society is more concerned and aware of their health, taking the matters into their own hands – some problems are stopped before reaching any need for medical attention. With a society filled with obesity, fast food, and lack of exercise, the U.S. needs to be more preventative and routinely check for things like cholesterol and heart problems.
I argued that there are diseases and conditions that you find through those routine check-ups and blood work. But, come to think of it a lot of those tests are special and need to be ordered separately, upon symptoms or concerns anyway. While there are things that blood tests reveal about your health that you need to know, many of those problems come to surface with symptoms – which is when the Swedish Health care kicks in. But not before.
Sweden might be less preventative, but at the same time it is more proactive and accessible.
There are many more things that could be said, and that other people often say, but I don’t intend for this to get into an argument – only observations of my first experience with the Swedish Health Care system. It is a system to adapt to, but one that I now I understand better and feel more at ease with. Both (and all) systems have advantages and disadvantages, but both have been in place for a long time and are respectively effective.