Healthcare in Sweden

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Introduction

The Swedish healthcare system is considered by many to be one of the world’s best, offering high quality, affordable care to all legal residents of Sweden, including expats.

The majority of the Swedish healthcare system is publicly funded. In theory, there are public as well as private healthcare providers, though both offer subsidised treatment under the country’s public healthcare system. There are a small number of private healthcare providers not affiliated with the government, however. These are uncommon and patients receiving treatment at these facilities will need to pay for it in full, in which case having private insurance is advised.

In practice, there’s no difference in the quality of public and private treatment. However, privately operated healthcare does allow the patient to fast-track the sometimes lengthy waiting periods experienced in the public sector.

The healthcare system

Sweden’s healthcare system operates on a decentralised basis, with responsibilities being divided up between national, regional and local bodies. The national government contributes 9 percent of its GDP to healthcare and sets national healthcare policies. Regional bodies known as county councils are responsible for service delivery and further funding of healthcare services. Most healthcare funding comes from regional taxes, so the availability of certain services can differ between county councils based on how much tax the council receives.

Health centres are the first port of call for day-to-day ailments and outpatient treatments, while inpatient and emergency treatment is typically provided at hospitals.

Not all medical professionals will be able to speak English, but non-Swedish-speaking patients have the right to be provided with an interpreter by law. Depending on the language requirements, the interpreter may assist with translation on site or via phone or video call.

Urgent cases are given priority so it can take some time for non-urgent cases to be seen to. The Vårdgarant policy aims to reduce waiting times and imposes limits on how long non-emergency patients can be made to wait for appointments or treatments.

Health insurance

Health insurance coverage in Sweden is universal, with residents and nationals alike being eligible to use the public healthcare system. Patients can choose where to receive medical treatment and aren’t bound to any particular doctor, hospital or clinic. This includes private facilities that offer publicly funded services.

The price of medical care is set by local authorities, so all facilities within the same county council charge the same prices. These prices are generally low as they are subsidised. There is a strict limit on how much a patient can pay in for healthcare each year, and once this amount is reached, the cost of healthcare for the remainder of the year is covered by the government.

Some county councils may have fewer resources than others. For example, county councils that don’t earn much in tax won’t have as many funds as one that earns a lot of tax. In this case, patients may have to travel to another region for specialised treatment, or else seek out a private specialist in their area. If expats anticipate using one of the few fully private healthcare centres, it is recommended that they invest in private insurance to cover costs.

Pharmacies and medicines

Pharmacies in Sweden are known as “apotek” and can be easily found in city centres. Most open at 8am or 9am and close at 7pm or 8pm, and some pharmacies stay open 24/7.

Medication regulations vary from country to country and expats may find that they need a prescription in Sweden for medications they would have been able to purchase over the counter back home.

Medication is subsidised and available at a small fee for both locals and expats. Like most other medical expenses in Sweden, there is a yearly cap on how much patients pay for medication. Once the limit is reached, the government continues to pay with no co-payment from the patient.

Emergency services

For emergency ambulance, fire or police services, call 112. All operators speak both Swedish and English. Once dispatched, ambulances usually arrive within ten minutes in urban areas, though they can take as long as 30 minutes to reach rural locations.

There is also a 24-hour line for non-emergency medical advice, which can be reached by dialling 1177. This line is operated by nurses, who can also give information and advice about healthcare within one’s county council.

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