Quality of after-hours primary care in the Netherlands: a narrative review

Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 19;155(2):108-13. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-155-2-201107190-00006.


Many Western countries are seeking an organizational model for after-hours primary care that is safe, efficient, and satisfactory for patients and health care professionals. Around the year 2000, Dutch primary care physicians (PCPs) reorganized their after-hours primary care and shifted from small rotation groups to large-scale PCP cooperatives. This article provides a narrative review of studies on a range of issues about after-hours primary care in the Netherlands, including experiences of health care professionals and patients, patient-safety incidents, adherence to practice guidelines, waiting times, and quality of telephone triage. Physicians expressed high satisfaction with PCP cooperatives; their workload decreased, and job satisfaction increased compared with the situation before the reorganization. In general, patients were also satisfied, but areas for improvement included telephone consultations, patient education, and distance to a pharmacy. A study identified patient-safety incidents in 2.4% of all contacts, of which most did not result in harm to patients. The average adherence to clinical guidelines by physicians was 77%, with lowest adherence scores for prescribing antibiotics and treatment in emergency cases. The average waiting time for home visits was 30 minutes. Seventy percent of patients with life-threatening problems were visited within the time target of 15 minutes. Telephone triage by nurses had positive effects on care efficiency by increasing the proportion of telephone consultations and decreasing the proportion of clinic consultations and home visits. The after-hours primary care system in the Netherlands might set an example for other countries struggling to find a good solution for the problems they encounter with after-hours primary care. Future developments in the Netherlands include integration and extensive collaboration with the accident and emergency departments of hospitals, in which PCPs take care of self-referring patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • After-Hours Care / standards*
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Netherlands
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • State Medicine / organization & administration
  • State Medicine / standards
  • Triage / standards
  • Workload