A Tale of Two Health Cares: The US vs Denmark

Long post alert!

So as I mentioned in a previous post, one of the biggest reasons I took a break from the blog this year was my health. I was battling an infection and other symptoms that my doctors just couldn’t seem to treat, and it was frustrating as eff. Thankfully after months (we’re talking like literally from November to May here), my multiple doctors finally figured out how to treat me! It definitely was a long and emotional journey that got quite rough at times. Some nights I would cry for hours because of the pain. All in all, I ended up having to go to a total of five doctors before I was able to find a treatment that worked. Now that I’m thankfully back to my healthy self, I wanted to write this post to reflect on all the ways that health care in the US is different from Denmark and the pros and cons of each.

Disclaimer: I’m not trying to speak for anyone else here. I’m sure there are some people that would disagree with me. These are just my personal experiences.


Cost of Healthcare

In the US: It was crazy expensive. Thank god I was covered under my parents’ plan until I was 26 (THANKS OBAMA). I only paid for my own health insurance for a few months before moving to Denmark, but it was struggle to keep up with the payments.

In Denmark: It’s Free! OMG it’s free! The first time I went for a check up I awkwardly stood at the desk with my credit card expecting to have to pay a co-pay. NOPE!

Overall better experience: Denmark

Wait Times at the Doctor’s Office

In the US: I would basically have to take a full day off of work to go for a dang check up. I would get there half an hour before my appointment time because they said you had to, and I would check in with a (sometimes distracted and unhelpful) receptionist. After someone finally acknowledged my existence, I would have to wait another 30 minutes before being called back by a nurse who would take my blood pressure, weight, etc. After that, I would be taken to an exam room where I would have to wait another 15 or so minutes before the doctor actually came in the room. I’ve wasted countless hours of my life in American doctors offices over the years…

In Denmark: I took a full day off work in preparation for my first check up because I didn’t know any better. I had an appointment at noon, and my work day ends at 2:30 so I figured it wasn’t worth trying to get back. I did my usual thing and got to the office 30 minutes beforehand. There was no receptionist. I only had to swipe my health card through a reader which checked me in. I got comfortable and prepared for a long wait, but the doctor herself (not a nurse) came to get me no more than 5 minutes later. Ten minutes after that, I was on my way home, and it still wasn’t even noon (my original appointment time). Wow.

Overall better experience: Denmark

Picking up prescriptions

In the US: If I needed medicine my doctor would ask me which pharmacy I wanted to use. I chose my local Target pharmacy, and it was super convenient because I was in that Target literally all the time. However, I was only able to get my prescriptions at that specific location which could be annoying.

In Denmark: The first time I got a prescription, it went a little something like this

Doctor: *typing* Ok so you can pick it up in a few minutes.
Me: From where?
Doctor: A pharmacy, of course.
Me: Which pharmacy though?
Doctor: Whichever one you prefer.
Me: In my neighborhood? Do I have to tell you which one?
Doctor: No, you can go anywhere you want.
Me: But only in Copenhagen though, right?
Doctor: *obviously exhausted* You can pick it up at any pharmacy in Denmark…

And wouldn’t you know…I’ve picked up prescriptions at 3 different pharmacies with no problems. All I have to do is give them my health card, and they swipe it to see what I need. Pretty great.

Overall better experience: Denmark

Doctor Friendliness and Bedside Manner

In the US: Even with the excessively long wait times, it was worth it because my American doctors were awesome. My family doctor knew my all my hobbies, my major in College, the names of my recent boyfriends, everything. Even the doctors I only went to once were super friendly and asked questions about my life and not just my symptoms. Going to the doctor sucked a little less when they were easy to talk to.  I’ve never had a doctor in the US that was anything but nice.

In Denmark: Even though the health care here is insanely convenient, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The doctors that I have seen (with the exception of one that I absolutely love) have not been great at making me feel like they really care about me. 3 of the doctors I saw (including my primary doctor) were very direct to the point that they came off extremely cold. I asked a lot of questions because my condition was really making my life hell, but they didn’t seem too keen on answering them all. This might just be a cultural difference that I’m not quite used to yet, but it doesn’t make it any less off-putting.

I had one particular experience that stands out more that anything else. I was in enormous pain due an intense rash that had broken out all over my body, so I went to a dermatologist. The nurse was doing a preliminary examination and after looking at my rash for all of 5 seconds said ‘Everything looks normal’. I LOST IT. How the hell was this bright red rash normal? It was a new symptom that showed up after I had already struggled with my health for half a year, and I was exhausted from the constant pain and discomfort. This was the straw that broke my personal camel’s back. I was so tired of being sick, and I just wanted someone to help me. I started crying hysterically, and the nurse got visibly uncomfortable and straight up walked out of the room leaving me to sob alone. 5 minutes late, the doctor came in, patted my arm robotically, and asked ‘Are you sad?’ in the most monotone voice ever. I would have laughed if I wasn’t, you know, crying.

I love you, Denmark, but your doctors really need some empathy…at lease the ones I’ve seen do anyway…

Overall better experience: The US

Final thoughts

Overall, I love how easy it is to go to the doctor and how convenient prescription pick up is her in Denmark. It’s just unfortunate and sad that the negative interactions I’ve had with the doctors themselves has made me a little wary. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky when it comes to the bedside manner. Like I said, these are just my personal experiences so far, and I hope to have more positive doctors visits in the future.

Have you had experiences with doctors and health care abroad? How did it compare to your home country?




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