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Finding a doctor in Brussels: Navigating Belgium’s healthcare
Belgium enjoys a good reputation when it comes to the country’s healthcare services. For newcomers, though, it can still be a bit of a headache when navigating the intricacies of the system.
This includes finding a general practitioner (médecin généraliste/huisarts), especially if you aren’t already registered with a medical centre or an individual doctor.
Many expats in Brussels in particular seek consultations in English. While it’s easier to find a doctor who speaks at least basic English in Brussels or Flanders, in Wallonia, you’ll probably have to speak French.
It’s generally recommended to find a doctor close to your home or place of work. Most doctors working independently from their home don’t have administrative staff. You need to call them for an an appointment or attend their surgery during consultation times, although the latter will probably require some waiting time.
Alternatively, it’s possible to walk into a medical centre with several doctors on hand, but be prepared to sit it out in the waiting room. For weekend consultations – that don’t require a trip to a hospital emergency department – check online for a local out-of-hours service.
Traditionally, many people have preferred to be recommended a family doctor by a friend or colleague, but it’s more common practice now to simply search for one on the web, such as this service for English-speaking doctors in Brussels.
One aspect that surprises some expats is the need to pay upfront for the consultation and whatever medication or treatment is prescribed. You then claim a partial refund for it afterwards from your medical insurance company.
Some private practitioners can charge far more than the standard (conventionné/geconventioneerd) rates set by the national system. Consultation fees are usually displayed in the waiting areas. Charges vary according to whether the appointment is in the surgery, in your home, in the evening or at weekends.
For independent doctors it’s still habitual to pay in cash. But they are increasingly sending receipts electronically directly to patients’ mutual fund for reimbursement, which reduces your paperwork.
Patients can entrust their global medical file (dossier médical global)/global medisch dossier) electronically to their doctor, which entitles them to a reduction in fees at that surgery.
The fixed fee for a visit to a general physician in Belgium in 2023 is €24.21 (€30.00 if accredited). For members of a mutual insurance association or European Health Insurance Card carriers, this rate is commonly reimbursed by up to 75%.
Unlike many other countries, you can arrange to see a specialist of your choice. it’s not essential to have a referral from a general practitioner.
The waiting time for an appointment with a specialist varies enormously from a few weeks to at least six months. Specialists work either in a hospital or in private practices.
When it comes to child healthcare, some families prefer to consult a paediatrician in addition to their doctor. Free medical services are available for children up to the age of six from ONE, the French-speaking community’s medical services, or Kind en Gezin in the Dutch-speaking community. Childhood vaccines are provided for free.
Family planning centres offer a viable alternative service to seeing a gynaecologist.
To find a chemist (pharmacie/apotheek), just look out for the green cross signs. They are open from Monday to Saturday and provide emergency 24/7 cover on a rota system, for which information is available online.
Medicines available without prescription are not refunded by health insurance funds. Chemists can issue a receipt for reimbursement purposes if you are unable to provide information about your health insurance or your national insurance number. In this case you can send the receipt to your insurance company for reimbursement.
Chemists are obliged to sell a generic medicine, which is usually cheaper, unless the doctor has specified on the prescription that the medicine should not be substituted.