Copenhagen: Take an Aspirin

Posted on November 7, 2006











by sabine behrmann

Illness comes with nightfall. Or so it may seem. Maybe it is just more noticeable when the hustle and bustle of the waking hours have come to a halt. It is then people in Denmark call the emergency doctor. As did one Brian Mikkelsen one evening in June this year. And his story has shaken the foundations of a bonus system that has worked to the dissatisfaction of many over the last 15 years.

Brian Mikkelsen called the emergency doctor, and received what many perceive as the standard suggestion: take an aspirin and see your own doctor tomorrow (or when the weekend is over). However, Mr Mikkelsen, being a cabinet minister, could afford calling a private emergency service and have a doctor come and see him. The doctor immediately sent Mr Mikkelsen to the nearest hospital where he was treated for a severe heart condition that could have cost him his life within a very short period of time. In this case it "only" cost him about 200 of his own money.

When the summer holidays were over and Mr Mikkelsen returned into the limelight of Danish media interest everybody focused on the fact that even men who are forty can experience serious illness. Then the real events transpired ever so slowly, and with them the experiences of many a citizen with a system, which favours medical inaction.

During the 1980s doctors who took on emergency duties reported that many of their patients were lonely or drug addicts rather than really sick, which led to a lot of unpleasant situations. So a system was brought into place where the caller speaks to a doctor on the phone first, and it is this doctor who will decide whether or not to send a colleague or advise the caller to go to the hospital.

The downside of this system is that the doctor who takes the calls gets paid about twice as much for a call that does not require medical aid as for one that does. Until a couple of days ago this had not been common knowledge. Now the consternation is general and heartfelt. Medical organizations are busy explaining that this does not mean that their members on the emergency duty are neglecting their duties as doctors. But there are too many who know enough about incentives to believe them. 


Posted in: copenhagen