Arrival & The Unknowm
When arriving to Denmark for the first time, you are impressed by the Scandinavian environment. The cities are functional, and in general, there is a feeling of efficiency you don’t see in many other countries.
One of the many benefits Denmark offers to their citizens is Universal Healthcare. Once you get your social security number (CPR) and your yellow card (sunhedskort) you are assigned to the nearest Doctor office available, which is then printed as on your card.
The Yellow card is not only used to access the Healthcare system, but also gives you access to public buildings, libraries, schools, and everything related to government issues. It is therefore important that you get your CPR and yellow card as soon as possible after you arrive in the country.
Difficult to Understand & Navigate
The Healthcare system in Denmark can be difficult to understand if you are new in town. A General Practitioner is the first-in-line to attend any health concerns from the general public. The General Doctors will check you and your family. Sometimes these doctors do the same as specialist doctors, for example as paediatricians or gynaecologists and make the first tests when they consider it necessary.
The system unfortunately can become a motive of concern for some expats. In countries like USA, and Mexico where I come from, you have access to private care and special doctors immediately, all it takes is a phone call. However, in Denmark, the GP will check first and decide if you need further specialised medical care or not. The GP will then write a “Henvisning” on your health file, which is the referral for you to access the next level of care. They also give you a list of specialist doctors they recommend, and you are responsible for making an appointment and following the process yourself.
Moreover, doctors in Denmark have a very passive approach to diseases. In my experience, there are not big efforts on prevention. Most of the times, doctors expect your immune system to work effectively and get rid of the disease, and will only prescribe medication if absolutely necessary. Everyday, I encounter Expats that talk about how the doctor is not supporting recovery by not subscribing medication, or by actually “doing something” to aid symptom relief. It can be extremely difficult for many of us who were used to accessing medication easily in our home countries.
Relaxed Danish Approach
Sometimes the relaxed Danish approach can be perceived as rude, especially when we see our children suffering. I have seen that in some cases the disease can evolve into life-threatening situations which end at the ER (Emergency Room), and where the GP did not act accordingly at the beginning. This can be for a number of reasons including the Danish desire to let the body heal itself without medication, or due to language barriers, which create confusion or understate the situation or actual symptoms. However, I also understand this can happen anywhere in the world.
I have learned the lessons about the healthcare system over the past five years whilst living in Denmark. First, I was so used to fast relief from symptom medication, that I never allowed my body to learn how to recover by itself. Now when I get sick, I recover faster, and I don’t feel as sick as I did before. That is something I am very grateful for after learning it the hard way whilst in Denmark.
Trust Your Instincts
However, I have also learned to follow my instincts, and advocate into looking for the best possible healthcare I can find, even when I have to pay for it. There have been occasions when I have not agreed with the doctors and asked for second opinion or looked for other options by myself. Fortunately, in my case, it has ended in very positive experiences including two surgeries and excellent support during my high-risk pregnancy. In the end, I have the feeling that the system works well in providing exactly what you need when you need it, it just takes a period of adjustment and shift to self-care, which many are unfamiliar with.
As a Doula, I talk with many expat parents everyday. One of the first pieces of advice I give them is: “Do not be afraid to ask for what you need for you and your family. Follow your instincts”. If you are planning to live in Denmark, it is very important to find a doctor you trust and a list of other healthcare providers, including alternative medicine, so you feel sure you are getting the best support on-hand.
Lili Boesen is a Postpartum Doula and Family Photographer. She has been living in Copenhagen, Denmark since 2014. She is a Mexican Expat married to a Dane and mom of a very active toddler. Lili offers private workshops, Doula services and basic Breastfeeding support for Pregnant Parents, New Parents, and Mother Groups. She also organises monthly Networking events through her project “New Mom Copenhagen Club” For more information and booking, please visit www.doulalili.dk
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