Where do you turn?

Last updated: 4 10 2018

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

When you or your children fall ill, you should initially go to your primary care centre. Primary care centres are closed in the evenings and at weekends. If you need care urgently, you have to go to an out of hours clinic or a emergency department. Ask your primary care centre which out of hours clinic is closest or check the primary care centre's website.

Primary care

Primary care is care you receive outside of a hospital, for example at a primary care centre. Primary care encompasses primary care centres, MVC (maternity care centres), BVC (child healthcare centres), physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, psychotherapists and young people's guidance centres.

If you fall ill and require care, you are to contact the primary care centre first.

When you arrive in Sweden, you go to a primary care centre for a health check. At the health check, you are interviewed and answer questions about your health. The healthcare personnel take various samples.

Choose a primary care centre

For children under the age of 18, parents (or legal guardians) have to choose which medical care centre to go to. In some county councils/regions you can choose your own medical care centre from the age of 16.

Many people choose the primary care centre that is closest to their home. You can also choose between publicly owned and privately owned primary care centres. The first time you go to a primary care centre, you receive help to sign up.

If you do not choose a primary care centre yourself, you are automatically signed up to the primary care centre that is closest to where you live.

You can change primary care centre whenever you want, for example if you move house. If you want to change primary care centre, go to the primary care centre you want to change to.

​Healthcare personnel

People from various professions work in healthcare. Here follows information about the most common healthcare professions in Sweden:

General practitioner

The doctors at primary care centres are often general practitioners. This means that they look after patients with the most common diseases.

General practitioners are also involved in preventative medicine. This means that they help to prevent disease. This may involve helping people to stop smoking, lose weight or stop drinking alcohol.

The general practitioner you see will also check if you need to visit a doctor who specialises in specific diseases, e.g. an eye doctor or a heart doctor. If this is the case, the general practitioner will send a referral to a specialist clinic where an appointment will be made for you.


Nurses work in all the places where you can get healthcare. Many nurses also have additional training in a specific subject such as psychiatry.

Auxiliary nurses

Auxiliary nurses work together with doctors and nurses. The perform duties such as taking blood samples and dressing wounds.

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists

A physiotherapist helps people who have problems with their mobility, such as from back pain or after surgery.

An occupational therapist helps people who have had an illness or been injured to function better in their day-to-day lives.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors

A psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor helps people who are psychologically unwell, for example because of depression or stress.


A dietician helps people to choose what they eat and drink in order to become healthier.

Life-threatening diseases or injuries

If you develop an acute illness or suffer from a life-threatening injury, you have to go to an emergency department at a hospital. If you are not able to get to the hospital in a car or a taxi, you can call an ambulance. You call SOS Alarm on 112.

If your child is very ill or injured, you have to go to the hospital's emergency department for children, the paediatric emergency department. A paediatric emergency department normally admits children aged 0 to 16.

Specialist clinics

Specialist clinics are usually located in hospitals. Each clinic is devoted to a particular speciality, such as gastrointestinal diseases, and has doctors qualified in that speciality. Usually it will be the general practitioner at your health care centre who refers you to a specialist clinic. You don't need to have a referral in order to get an appointment at a specialist clinic, but if you have one you may get to see the doctor sooner. It also costs less if you have a referral.

It is usually free to go to the young people's guidance centre, but sometimes you have to pay for an appointment at the primary care centre. The personnel at the young person's guidance centre are bound by professional confidentiality. Photo: Klara Stenström

Young people's guidance centres

Young people's guidance centres are for young people who have questions about sex, health and relationships. Young people's guidance centres are usually open for young people aged 13 to 25. The age limits may differ between different municipalities. Visiting a young people's guidance centre is free. At young people's guidance centres there are usually midwives, counsellors, psychologists, auxiliary nurses, gynaecologists and doctors.


A hospital has several different clinics and wards. Specialist clinics and emergency departments can be found in hospitals. Many hospitals also have a labour ward where you go when you are going to give birth.

Here are some examples of the different specialist clinics to be found in hospitals:

  • Orthopaedic clinic: for problems with the skeleton and organs of movement, for example a broken leg.
  • Medical clinic: for internal diseases such as problems with the stomach and intestines.
  • Surgical clinic: for diseases that require surgery.
  • Gynaecology clinic: for women's diseases such as a complicated pregnancy.
  • Eye clinic: for various eye diseases.
  • Ear, nose and throat clinic: for problems in the ears, nose and throat.
  • Psychiatric clinic: for psychological problems.

Emergency department

An emergency department is open 24 hours a day. You go to the emergency department if you have a serious injury or an acute illness or your normal primary care centre is closed. It is common that you have to wait a long time if you go to the hospital's emergency department. This is because it is impossible for the hospital to know how many patients will come. At the emergency department, the person who is most ill or most seriously injured is treated first. If you are not seriously ill or injured, it is better to go to your primary care centre or an out of hours clinic. You can usually make an appointment there or go to a drop-in clinic. Drop-in means you take a number and wait your turn.

Children and young people

In larger cities there may be specific hospitals for children and young people. In smaller cities, there is a specific emergency department for children and young people between 0 and 16 years of age.

Photo: Colourbox

Psychological ill health

Psychological ill health can affect anyone. Sometimes it is difficult to talk about psychological problems. Psychological ill health is often evident in your body. Your muscles maybe hurt. You maybe sweat, your heart beats too fast, you have a hard time sleeping or get headaches.

If you think you have psychological problems, you can talk to a doctor at your primary care centre. S/He can put you in touch with a counsellor or psychologist.

There are also emergency psychiatric clinics at hospitals for both adults and children and young people (Children and Adolescent Psychiatry, BUP). The emergency psychiatric clinics are usually open 24 hours a day, just like normal emergency departments.

Healthcare guarantee

In Sweden, people sometimes wait a long time for care. In order to avoid people having to wait too long, there is something called the healthcare guarantee. The healthcare guarantee is written into the Health and Medical Services Act and means you have a right to receive care within a set time period.

Primary care – If you are trying to reach primary care services such as your primary care centre, you have to make contact the same day. Contact can mean that you get an appointment at a primary care centre or you are able to speak to someone on the phone. If primary care personnel, for example a nurse, think you need to see a doctor, you will not need to wait more than seven days for an appointment.

Specialist clinic – If you receive a referral to a specialist, you will not need to wait more than 90 days for your appointment with the specialist. The same rule applies when you have sought specialist care without a referral.

Treatment – When your doctor has decided that you have to receive treatment, for example an operation, you will not have to wait more than 90 days for the treatment.

The healthcare guarantee does not apply to emergency care. A patient who is acutely ill will receive care as quickly as possible.

High-cost protection

High-cost protection is protection against high costs for care and medicine.

High-cost protection for care means that, as a patient, you only need to pay a maximum of SEK 1,100 per year for care. Once you have paid SEK 1,100, your care is free for the rest of the year. You are given a free pass. The free pass is valid for twelve months from the date of your first appointment.

High-cost protection for medicines means that, as a patient, you only need to pay a maximum of SEK 2,200 per year for prescription medicines. Once you have paid SEK 2,200, your prescription medicines are free for the rest of the year. This period starts on the day you first bought medicine.

All children in the family are counted as one and are included in the same high-cost protection. This applies to high-cost protection for both medicine and care.

Medicines for children under the age of 18 are free.

The Communicable Diseases Act

Sweden has a law called the Communicable Diseases Act which was enacted in order to prevent the spread of serious infectious diseases. The law specifies rights and obligations of people who contract certain diseases, including HIV, chlamydia, tuberculosis, salmonella, hepatitis A and syphilis.

The Communicable Diseases Act contains a list of diseases. There are about 60 of these. These diseases are subject to a notification obligation.

The law also stipulates that you have to notify the medical care services if you think you have been infected by one of these diseases. You must also tell them who (one or more persons) may have infected you. Some of the diseases covered by the Communicable Diseases Act are spread through sexual contact.

If you contract one of these diseases all examinations, treatments and medicines are free. You will also be given help to contact any people you may have infected.

The Public Health Agency of Sweden is an authority that has information about the Communicable Diseases Act and diseases.

Organ donation

Every year, close to 700 seriously ill people in Sweden have one or more organs, for example kidneys or a heart, replaced through transplantation from a donor.

At the same time, there are not enough organs being donated in Sweden. Every year, people die because they are waiting for a transplant and there are not enough organs.

You have the right to decide what you want to happen to your organs when you die. You can choose:

  • not to donate your organs,
  • to donate you organs for transplantation, or
  • to donate them for transplantation and medical purposes.

If you have not told your close relatives that you want to donate your organs when you die, they can decide this themselves.