Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Norway vs. the US in Health Care

So, I recently had my first experience with the health care system in Norway.  In the states, I was a Kaiser girl, living on a pretty nice, yet inexpensive insurance plan.  I can say now that there are easily some differences between the two...

Getting a doctor
The process of getting a primary care physician, or, a "fastlege" is pretty similar between Norway and the US.  Once you are signed up with an insurance company, or once you have received your personal number in Norway, you can then pick your doctor.  Mine was picked for me, simply because I didn't get to it in time.  Oops.

The appointment.
At Kaiser, I would call and make an appointment within a one week time frame, depending on the situation of course.  If needed, I could come by on the same day but would not always see the same doctor.  Often, it was a nurse practitioner.  In Norway, it is not always as simple to get an appointment.  My doctor is open from 8:30 to 4:30, and closed between 12 to 12:30 for lunch (perfect...just during working hours).  When I called for my appointment, they wanted to schedule me in for an appointment in a few weeks time.  Finally, after I said it was more urgent, they gave me an earlier appointment.

Anytime I went to an appointment at Kaiser, I would be a little early just in case I needed to fill out some paperwork.  HIPA forms, consent forms, confidentiality, personal history bla, bla, bla.  When I showed up early for my appointment here, I waited until my exact appointment time when they came and got me for my appointment.  No paperwork required in Norway.

The appointment itself was different than what I have experienced in the states.  Without going into too much detail, I will say it was very casual and somewhat awkward.  It felt more to me like a simple home visit than an appointment to a doctors office.

Any time I went to the doctor in the states, whether for a cold, a physical or whatnot, it would always begin with vitals and a chat with a nurse.  Blood pressure, pulse and of course, weight.  Then, questions about what's going on, pamphlets with information on everything and follow up appointments.  Organized, white, and formal.  In Norway, it was very informal.  No vitals, just straight to the point.  Hello, I'm the doctor, what do you need?  The end.

The image I have in my head of my doctor's office in the US. White, modern, clean, cold.

The image I have of my Norwegian doctors office.  Older, clean, cozy.

The Care in Health Care
No matter where you are, you always here that it is important to be proactive about your health.  Ask questions, research, be picky.  It is no different in Norway.  If anything, from my small bit of experience, I have learned that it is even more important.  The first thing the doctor said to me at my appointment was "what do you want me to do".  I didn't know that I was suppose to know.  I had to get stitches and the doctor let me walk out of the door before I remembered to ask when I needed to come back to have them removed (and on a side note, when they were removed, they forgot a few small pieces which I later removed at home).  It's not difficult to remember these things, but it is certainly a different routine and not a responsibility I am used to having.

Big vs. Small
Kaiser has fancy technology and new buildings.  I once got a flu shot through my car window.  There are normally big road signs directing you to the facilities.  When you get to the building, it is not always easy to find your way to the correct building and there were 4 elevators taking you to the many levels.  My doctors office in Bergen is a very small, old, wooden building that sits on the edge of the water.  There is one small waiting room, a hallway and maybe 5 big rooms to patients.

A directory at Kaiser

Not my exact Norwegian doctor's office, but just about.

One thing I will not miss about the American health insurance system.  Talking to machines.  I would call to make an appointment and....

press 1 to get program information
press 2 for details about your bill
press 3 for facility locations
press 4 for problems with your online account
press 5 for the pharmacy
press 6 to make an appointment...finally

press 1 for an appointment in the boulder office
press 2 for an appointment in the broomfield office
press 3 for an appointment in the westminster office
press 4 for an appointment in the denver office...finally

type in your medical account number and press #
type in the last 4 letters of your social security number

talk to a nurse about your appointment.  They will talk to the doctor and call you back with an appointment time.  Now, don't miss their call or you will have to start at step 1 again.

In Norway, I called, they answered and I made an appointment.  That's right...I talked to a person.

Getting information

At Kaiser, the turnaround time for tests and such was normally 24 to 72 hours and you would get a call or be able to check those results online.  I had a simple test done in Norway and was told it would be up to 3 weeks.  They would call if there was any news.  No news was good news.  That is a stressful 3 weeks if you are waiting for anything serious!

Which is better??
There is a lot of discussion these days about health care and what is best...private health insurance, government run health insurance???  I can't tell you which is better.  I barely have experience with the system here in Norway.  For now, all I can say is that there are ups and downs to each.


  1. its so cool to see someone acknowledge there are good and bad to both system...and to see an authentic and real overview of how they went about the system.

    i havent had an experience here yet w/ the system, but based on my patience level (which is zero), im a little nervous. based on my hate for paperwork, it may make up for the patience thing.

    i had impeccable healthcare in the US at a way lower cost than i would ever pay here in norway considering all things like taxes. so of course, im always going to be a bit biased b/c i have always received great healthcare. if i was on the other side of the spectrum from someone who had none in the US, id completely be excited to finally be covered here. so it is kind of just all what you're used to.

    i have known people here in norway who have had operations go sour and are 'injured' or 'sick' for the rest of their life b/c of it (3 people recently) and in the US i know people who are in $100,000 of medical debt. so really, it is what it is. no system is perfect and we just have to accept that :)

    so great you covered it in an unbiased, but realistic manner! i love that :)

  2. Hi! I really enjoy reading your blog. I really like your comparison. I had Kaiser when I lived in Colorado and it was pretty amazing insurance compared to what I have now.
    My son is a Norwegian citizen as I'm married to a Norwegian. Once while we were visiting Norway, our son had a bad earache. We took him to the Dr. who sat him on her lap behind a big antique looking desk. She listened to his breathing, and looked in his ears, nose and throat. Then she looked at me and very matter of fact stated; "He has a bad ear infection. I suppose since you are American you are expecting me to write you a script for an antibiotic." I was really taken aback by this. I said; "Well, not necessarily. How do you typically respond to this sort of thing here in Norway?" She said that they wait it out a few days and it usually clears up on it's own and to give him some Paracet for the pain. I went with that, but I was skeptical and slightly offended that she stereotyped me. It did clear up in a few days time, and he was no worse for it, but I realized that I am used to getting antibiotics and feeling like I'm being proactive and getting stuff done. People in Norway are used to waiting around for stuff I guess. When we move there, that will probably drive me crazy!

  3. Thanks Ladies, I'm glad you like the post!! You are right, I have learned quickly that Norwegians are much more patient and don't turn straight to medication. In the US, I'd get a cold and turn immediately to DayQuil and NyQuil. A stomach ache and I would pick up my tums or pepto bismol. A headache and I'd take Ibuprofen. Most of my family members in Norway don't know what tums are and cringe when I say I want an ibuprofen.

    I think Americans are so used to a fast answer to everything. We have fast food, quick dry nail polish, a fast lane, drive thru pharmacies and a pill for nearly everything! I don't mind "waiting it out" here, but it is certainly taking some used to. Who knows, maybe after 10 months here, I've become a little more patient as well:)

  4. a whole year have passed
    what is your thoughts about medical care in Norway ?

  5. I enjoyed the article. I would love an update to the blog