Science - June 8, 2006

‘Medicine does more harm than good’

A visit to a Dutch doctor will not always automatically result in a prescription for medication. GP Adri Jobse recommends that international students in Wageningen should register with a GP when they arrive, and not wait until they fall ill.

In an article in last week’s Wispr, some international students indicated that they do not feel they are taken seriously by Dutch GPs. They claimed they do not have enough access to health services and medicines. The WSO sent a letter to all GPs in Wageningen asking them to understand the expectations of international students. Wageningen GP Adri Jobse says the letter confirms the experiences of GPs, but that they are not about to change the way they deal with international patients.

‘The easiest thing for GPs to do is to give a patient medicine when he or she asks for it,’ explains Jobse, chairman of the Wageningen GPs association. It is a request they are used to hearing from international students. ‘But this is not a serious or effective way of taking care of somebody. A good GP only prescribes after having taken a detailed case of the patient’s complaints.’ Medicine often does more harm than good, Jobse continues. ‘The figures for damage due to unnecessary medical treatment are astonishing, not only through pathogens becoming resistant to medicines, but also through physical consequences, such as stomach ulcers from painkillers.’

For the last twenty-five years the Dutch healthcare system has been based on a policy of demedicalisation. Jobse: ‘For a long time now we have been one of the countries with the lowest medicine use in Europe. For something like a sore throat we do not prescribe medication in Holland. This is part of our culture and it has made people better off.’

Another typically Dutch aspect is the way in which doctor’s appointments are made. ‘If you just turn up at the GP’s office during your break, as we notice some international students do, there is unlikely to be a doctor available to help you. You can either come to the open surgery session if you are registered with a GP, usually in the morning, or you can make an appointment by phone.’ Jobse thinks it is important that international students understand that it is important to be registered with a GP so that they can be helped quickly and easily if they fall ill.

Although there is information available on medical services in ‘Your Guide in Wageningen’, Jobse thinks the University could do more to inform its international students about how to deal with the Dutch system and what studying in Wageningen involves. ‘What we come across are international students suffering from psychological problems like stress, homesickness and depression.’ The GPs often become aware of these problems because they are alerted by the related physical complaints that they observe. Jobse adds one final comment: ‘When it comes to communication, I’ve been surprised by the lack of English in a number of cases. If someone is not able to describe their physical complaints, how can they be capable of doing a master’s at the University? I wonder if the University screens on this?’ / MV

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