Pregnancy Swedish Healthcare
Health, Sweden

I have more fear of not receiving healthcare in Sweden than in the US

I recently spoke to a middle aged Swedish man who inquired about America’s expensive healthcare system. He joked about American patients being thrown out on the streets by US hospitals if they could not pay for healthcare.

I smiled courteously and said healthcare can be expensive in the United States, but people receive care quickly, at least before Obamacare, and are not thrown out on the streets.

Then I started thinking how I actually have more fear of not receiving care under Sweden’s universal healthcare system compared the US’s more privatized healthcare, mostly due to difficulty in communicating with health clinics, long wait times and lack of adequate technology and space in hospitals.

I mentioned in a previous post that, at this point in time, one of the most frequent challenges I have experienced with Sweden’s healthcare system is simply getting someone on the phone to schedule an appointment or answer a basic question I have.

Health clinics in Sweden do not have receptionists answer the phone right away and instead have an automated system answer the phone to schedule a call back time. There have been days where I’ve called the local health clinic, as well as specialists, early in the morning only to be answered by an automated voice system that says the system is full and that I should call back the next day. I’ve had to wait more than a day just to ask basic questions about documents and procedures. Often I call just hoping the system will fit me in for a call back time, which can be anywhere from an hour later to five hours later. This is much different than what I am used to in the United States where health clinics answer the phone right away.

Sweden’s healthcare system has been so tedious to communicate with that I have questioned will I receive adequate care if I become pregnant? What if I am diagnosed with cancer and have to wait days to speak with someone on the phone in between treatment? What if I encounter the unfortunate dilemma of kidney stones and the healthcare system doesn’t follow up with me? I find it bizarre I have these questions about a healthcare system that so many Americans unfortunately praise.

Some more background on Sweden’s healthcare system.. In Sweden there have been multiple occasions where Swedish mothers were flown to Finland to give birth due to lack of space in hospitals. Can you imagine giving birth in a country other than your own, especially when your country is an advanced nation like Sweden? Swedish mothers noted they were fearful in Finland because doctors did not speak Swedish or English.

A maternity ward in northern Sweden was closed due to lack of funding which is connected to a Swedish mother giving birth in a car. Granted the maternity ward was in a less populated area of Sweden, but shouldn’t citizens who are paying one of the highest tax rates in Europe have basic health services in less populated areas?

An American mother who gave birth in Sweden told me when she was ready to give birth in Stockholm the hospital gave her medication to prolong the birth to the next day and sent her home because there was no room in the hospital. She came back the next day and had a successful birth, but she later learned the medication she was given has resulted in miscarriages and that the drug should not be administered unless absolutely necessary.

Increasing numbers of Swedes in populated areas have been having to be transported to hospitals in less populated areas. There has been a record shortage of public sector workers, which includes nurses and doctors, to the point that doctors have had to be imported from other countries. Isn’t it odd that there is a shortage of doctors considering education in Sweden is “free”? (Education in Sweden is not completely free, by the way, according to American standards).

A Swedish friend mentioned he had a co-worker who needed a knee replacement and the government healthcare continued putting off the surgery for over a year. He ended up retiring early because he could not continue working in the condition he was in.

I’ll also throw in a story about Norway’s healthcare system, which I consider to be somewhat comparable to Sweden’s healthcare. I learned from Americans in Norway that it is challenging to have something as basic as kidney stones treated by Norway’s healthcare system. They mentioned Norway lacks technology to treat kidney stones and that they’ve known people who ended up with more health problems after receiving care. They actually recommended seeking treatment in other countries if possible.

One American in Norway said he had kidney stones and was told he would have to wait six months for treatment under Norway’s government healthcare, which is an incredibly long time for a common health problem. Fortunately he had private insurance from his employer that helped cover the expense for quicker and better treatment in Germany which entailed being abroad for a few days. He had to be accompanied by a Norwegian doctor the whole time he was in Germany.

In many ways I am fearful of being under Sweden’s care. I have learned from Swedish locals that Sweden’s healthcare system has become worse during the last decade. I’m trying to become as prepared as I can in working with Sweden’s healthcare system by communicating with Americans in Sweden who provide guidance based on experiences they have had.

The most smooth experience I have had with healthcare to date was in the United States when I had an affordable private health insurance plan which was unfortunately eliminated when Obamacare took full effect circa 2014. Since then healthcare in the United States has also been going down hill. I am an advocate for private health insurance.


Lauren Ell is an American blogger born and raised in Southern California and is currently based in Sweden. She discusses Epilepsy, Politics and Fun. Professionally Ell is an Online Marketing Consultant and Virtual Assistant. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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