Finding the right care

Last updated: 17 9 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about Swedish medial care services. It describes how medical care services work in Sweden and what you should do if you need medical care. It also describes different types of clinics and what help you can get there.

It also describes how Swedish dental care services work and provides suggestions for how to look after your teeth. 

  • The right to health and medical care

    Everyone is entitled to having the best possible physical and mental health. The right to health is important in realising other rights, such as to be able to work or go to school. Other rights also have an impact on the right to health. If you have nowhere to live, for example, or if you do not have a job, it will affect your well-being.

    Everyone is also entitled to medical care. A person who is in acute need of medical care must receive it first. People who work in the medical care services have to respect the equal worth of all people. You are entitled to be received in a professional and respectful manner by medical care staff. This applies regardless of your gender, gender identity, ethnicity, language, sexuality, religion or education. But you do not have the right to demand to be treated by staff of a specific gender, ethnic background, religion or similar. 

Medical care systems

Health and medical care is care that everyone in society has access to and a right to. The way medical care systems work varies between countries. Sweden has decided that the right to good health and medical care must be the same for everyone – equal, in other words. That is why you do not have to pay very much if you need to see a doctor, have surgery, or are interned in a hospital. Most of the cost for that is paid for through taxes. Regions and municipalities are responsible for health and medical care. It is important to know how the medical care services work and what you need to do if you need medical care.

Hospitals and clinics

Medical care centres

When you or your children become ill, the place you should most often turn to is your medical care centre. That is where you get medical care for common illnesses and conditions. Many different categories of medical professionals work there, including nurses, general practitioners, district medical officers, assistant nurses, and counsellors. If the doctor's assessment is that you or your child needs specialist care, they will ensure that you get referred to a specialist doctor.

In Sweden, you can choose which medical care centre you want to belong to. Many people choose the centre that is closest to where they live. The first time you go to your medical care centre, they will help you get registered in their system. If you are not happy with your medical care centre, you can change to another one.

Medical care centres are open Monday to Friday, usually between 8.00 and 17.00, but hours may vary. You can go to a medical care centre without having made an appointment if it is urgent – if you have a bleeding cut, for instance. Otherwise, you have to make an appointment beforehand. You can make appointments at many medical care centres by logging in on www.1177.se. Some medical care centres allow you to come without an appointment between certain hours – usually referred to as emergency hours (akuttider) or drop-in.

Emergency ward

Medical centres are closed in the evening and at weekends. If you need medical care at those times, you have to go to an emergency ward or an accident and emergency department. It is a good idea to call 1177 Vårdupplysningen before you go. Sometimes it is enough to get some advice from the 1177 staff for what to do. It may be that you can wait until the medical care centre opens again.

Emergency wards can have different names in different parts of the country. They may be called Akutjour, Primärvårdsjour, or something similar. You do not have to make an appointment before going to an emergency ward. At the emergency ward, you will receive care for the condition or symptoms that are most urgent. If the doctor thinks your condition needs to be examined in greater detail, this will be done at your medical care centre.

Ask at your medical care centre which emergency ward is the one closest to you or check on the medical care centre's website.

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.

Emergency wards specifically for children (paediatric emergency wards) are not available in all parts of the country. If there is not a paediatric emergency ward in your area, you should take your child to the nearest ordinary emergency ward.

  • Questions to think about

    What are the different ways you can get medical care services if you need them?

    Where are your nearest medical care centre and emergency ward?

    Where is your nearest accident and emergency department?

Hospitals

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.

  • Specialist clinics

    Specialist clinics have doctors that are specialised in certain diseases. You can access specialist clinics in different ways. The most common way is that your doctor at the medical care centre asks a specialist clinic to make an appointment for you. That is known as getting a referral. But you can also contact a specialist clinic yourself, without a referral from your doctor. That is known as a self-referral or own care request. You make your self-referral in different ways depending on where you are. Some clinics accept self-referrals via 1177 Vårdguiden's e-services. Other clinics have special forms for self-referrals.

    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.
    • Gynaecological clinic: For illnesses and problems of women's genitals.
    • Eye clinic: for various eye diseases.
    • Ear, nose and throat clinic: for problems in the ears, nose and throat.
    • Psychiatric clinic: For people who feel mentally unwell.
  • Accident and emergency department

    If you have a serious injury or an acute illness or condition, you should go to an accident and emergency department. Examples of acute conditions include chest pains that come on suddenly, difficulties breathing, very bad headaches that come on suddenly, very bad stomach pain, cramps, bone fractures, and unconsciousness. Your region will have one or more accident and emergency departments that are open throughout the day and night.

    The people who are sickest or most seriously injured are given priority in accident and emergency departments, meaning they get medical care first. That means you may have to wait a long time for your turn. If you are not seriously ill or injured, it is better if you go to your medical care centre or emergency ward, where you can usually make an appointment or just drop in.

  • 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.

  • Childbirth

    When you are going to have a child, you have to go the delivery ward (förlossningsavdelning) of a hospital. It is best to call the ward before going in. Once the child has been delivered, mother and child are sometimes allowed to stay for a few days in a special ward for women with newborn babies, known as the maternity ward (BB-avdelning in Swedish).

  • Midwifery unit (Barnmorskemottagning, BMM)

    The midwifery, or obstetrics, unit of a hospital takes care of women during their pregnancy as well as after childbirth. You visit the midwifery unit throughout your pregnancy to check that you and the baby are fine. Visits to the midwifery unit are free of charge.

    The midwifery unit also arranges meetings where they provide information about pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding. It is common for the other parent of the expected child to come to the meetings and to be present during delivery.

    You also go to the midwifery unit if you need advice about contraception or a prescription for contraceptives. Cervical screening and pregnancy terminations (abortions) are also carried out at the midwifery unit.

  • Child healthcare centre (Barnavårdscentralen, BVC)

    A child healthcare centre (BVC) serves parents and their young children. BVC staff can give you advice about your child's development, about breastfeeding, and food for your baby. You can also ask BVC staff about illnesses. Once you are back home after delivery, you contact BVC yourself to make the first appointment, which is often done at home. The nurse who comes to visit you will tell you about BVC and examine your baby to make sure everything is fine.

    Your child will then be called for regular health check-ups at BVC until the age of five. BVC staff vaccinate your child and check eyesight, hearing, and normal growth. The idea behind these health check-ups is to be able to help your child at an early stage in case something is wrong.

  • 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.

    There are also online youth clinics, including UMO.se and YOUMO.se The YOUMO website has translations into six different languages of some of the content from UMO.

  • Child and adolescent psychiatric clinic (Barn- och ungdomspsykiatrisk mottagning, BUP)

    Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics (BUP) are for children and young people up to the age of 18 who need specialist psychiatric care. As an adult, you may have to seek help for children you are responsible for. And if you are up to 18 years old, you can also seek help yourself. It is quite common that children and young people feel mentally unwell and need support for a period of time. If that is the case, you can contact the child healthcare centre, your medical care centre, the school nurse, the school psychologist, or the youth clinic. If their support does not help and the problems become so big that your everyday life at home, in school, and with friends becomes dysfunctional, you should contact BUP.

  • Digital care services

    As a patient, you can often have a video call with a doctor for an initial assessment of your complaint. Ask the staff at your medical care centre what digital services are available for you.

    If you use a digital care service which is not associated with the Swedish medical care system, you have to pay the whole cost of the consultation yourself.

​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

    Nurses work in almost all the places where you seek medical care. They often work together with other professional groups. Nurses have many different tasks, including caring for sick people, handling medication and carrying out treatments, and taking of samples. Many nurses also have extra training and specialist knowledge in a certain area, such as psychiatry or asthma.

  • 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.

  • Dieticians

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

Dental health

Sweden has both public and private dental care services. Public dental care services are known as Folktandvården. You can choose whether you want to go to Folktandvården or to a private dentist.

Going to the dentist is free of charge until the year in which you turn 23. From 1 January of the year you turn 24, you have to pay.

Example: Pia and Ahmed have to pay for their dental care 

Pia and Ahmed both turn 24 in 2022. Pia's birthday is on 1 January and Ahmed's is on 31 December, but both of them have to pay for their visits to the dentist from 1 January 2022.

Dental care in Sweden is more expensive than other medical care. But if you have high dental care costs during a particular year, you do not need to pay for everything. Some of the taxes paid to the state are used to pay for dental care. You pay for it directly up to a certain amount. Beyond that amount, you get a price reduction. This is known as high-cost protection.

Here is how high-cost protection works for dental care:

  • Costs up to SEK 3,000 – you pay for everything.
  • Costs between SEK 3,001 and SEK 15,000 – you pay half of the costs, and Försäkringskassan pays the other half.
  • Costs above SEK 15,000 – you pay 15% of the costs, and Försäkringskassan pays for the other 85%.

(These figures apply to 2021.)

You can also choose to have fixed-price dental care, which means you pay the same amount for your dental care each month or year. You and your dentist will make an assessment of your teeth. Then you get a proposal for what to pay each month or year over three years, for example. If you need to repair a tooth or have some other dentistry done during those three years, you still will not pay more than your monthly or yearly fee. Examinations are also included in the price. Within Folktandvården, this is known as Frisktandvård, or wellness dental care. Some private dentists also offer an arrangement with fixed prices.

Children have their first dental care appointment when they turn three. They are automatically called for an examination, and children and young people are then called for regular examinations. Adults have to contact the dental care services themselves.

The 2-2-2-2 method

  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day
  • for 2 minutes
  • with 2 centimetres of fluoride toothpaste (applies to adults and children above the age of six)
  • and then wait at least 2 hours before eating anything, so that your teeth get "to rest".

If you follow this instruction, you will be taking good care of your teeth. You can also rinse your mouth with fluoride and use dental floss, in which case, you will be taking even better care of your teeth.

If your teeth are healthy, this affects other parts of your body as well. If you have bacteria in your mouth, it is easier to catch diseases such as pneumonia. This is particularly dangerous for older people. Researchers have also seen that bad dental health can contribute to other diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.