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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: How do I get prescription medicine in Sweden? 

What can you buy over-the-counter and what do you need a prescription for? And how do you get a prescription? Here's a guide to how to get the medication you need in Sweden.

EXPLAINED: How do I get prescription medicine in Sweden? 
A Swedish pharmacy. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

What can I get over-the-counter (without a prescription)? 

Herbal remedies, food supplements, and lower-dose painkillers are all available without a prescription. Some of them you can buy at regular grocery stores such as Ica or Coop, but pharmacies usually have a wider selection. Stronger drugs require a prescription. 

How do you get a prescription? 

You make an appointment with a doctor. Some district nurses and dentists can also write prescriptions. If you have a Swedish social security number, personnummer, and digital identification tool BankID, you can in some regions send a request to renew a prescription online.

Prescription in Swedish is recept. Google Translate might sometimes mistakenly translate this to “recipe”, because in Swedish it’s the same word. 

Since 2017, all prescriptions are electronic, so you won’t get a piece of paper as long as you have a personnummer. All you need to do when you get to the pharmacy is show your ID card and they can see all the prescriptions you have. 

If you don’t have a personummer, you’ll still able to be prescribed medicine in Sweden, it will just be issued on paper instead. Your coordination number or date of birth must be stated instead.

A prescription is valid for one year from the date of issue, unless a shorter period is specified.

Where can I get my medicine? 

Only an official pharmacy (apotek in Swedish) can sell prescription medicine. There are lots of pharmacy chains in Sweden, since they were de-regulated in 2009. Only official pharmacies are allowed to use the green cross; the global symbol for pharmacy. 

Apoteket is the last remaining state-owned pharmacy and also the largest. There’s also Hjärtat, which is owned by Ica, and Kronans Apotek. 

While the cost of non-medical products may vary depending on the pharmacy, the cost of medicines is regulated so that it’s the same no matter which pharmacy you go to. You don’t need to always go to the same pharmacy either. Your medical history is recorded with your personnummer and each pharmacy can access it to see how much medicine you’ve received. 

How much does medicine cost in Sweden?

Sweden has among the lowest prices in Europe for pharmaceutical products. 

All medicines have different costs. But there is something called the high-cost protection (Högkostnadsskydd) which means that you don’t have to pay more than 2,350 kronor per year for prescription medicine if they are included in the drug benefit.

It works gradually. You pay the full price for medicine until it reaches 1,175 kronor in under a year, after which you gradually pay less and less of the cost. 

  • Between 1,175 and 2,243 kronor you pay 50 percent of the cost 
  • Between 2,244 and 4,167 kronor you pay 25 percent of the cost 
  • Between 4,168 and 5,767 kronor you pay 10 percent of the cost 

      When your total bill over the course of a year adds up to 2,350 kronor after all discounts have been deducted, you will receive a card which means that all the rest of your prescription medicine is now free for the rest of the year. After that year you’ll start paying again. 

      For people under the age of 18, prescription medicine is free. 

      The vast majority of all prescription drugs are covered by this high-cost protection. You can find exactly what is covered on the Swedish Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency (TLV) website which decides on cost and availability of medication. 

      If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, you pay the same subsidised fees as a Swedish citizen, but if you’re from another country you will in most cases have to pay the full cost of your care.

      What’s the cheapest way to get the medicine I need?

      The medicine that is suggested by the pharmacist first is always the one that is included in the drug benefit and which means it’ll be the cheapest.

      Pharmacies are obliged to offer the cheapest medicine on the market, with the same active ingredient that the doctor stated on the prescription, so you might get different manufacturers if you go back to get the same medicine. 

      There’s a system which determines a “ceiling price” (takpriser) so that no one has to pay more than necessary for medicines. TLV determines the price of medicine and appoints which brand is cheapest for the month. As well as this, the state subsidises medicines for consumers. 

      Medicines that have been on the market for 15 years are cheaper. 

      What if I want a specific brand of drug? 

      You’ll always be offered the lowest price which means you’ll get the same medicine but from different manufacturers every time you pick up your medicine.

      If, for some reason, you don’t want the cheapest medicine on the market, but the medicine listed on the prescription, then you can. But then you have to pay for a possible additional cost. The extra cost is not included in your high-cost protection.

      Does an overseas prescription count? 

      If you have a prescription from an EU/EEA doctor it should work in a Swedish pharmacy. You’ll need the original paper prescription which needs to include your date of birth and be signed by a doctor. The address of the prescriber’s workplace and complete contact details must be included. Photocopies or printouts don’t qualify.

      If your prescription is from outside the EU then you’re better off making an appointment to renew a prescription with a doctor in Sweden. You can do this via 1177.se or an online service such as Kry or doktor.se. If you don’t have a BankID or personnummer, then call a health centre (vårdcentral) directly.  

      Can I bring my medicines into Sweden?

      You can take your medicines with you as long as you can prove that they’re for your own personal use (or your accompanying pet), and you need them for medical reasons.

      Stricter rules apply to medicinal products containing narcotic or doping substances.

      If you travel from a country within the EEA you are allowed to bring one year supply of medicines. If you’re coming from outside the EEA, you’re only allowed to bring three months’ supply of medicine. 

      There’s more information on the Swedish Medical Products Agency website in English. 

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      For members

      HEALTH

      EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

      Sweden theoretically has a "healthcare guarantee" limiting your wait to see a GP to three days, and to see a consultant to three months. The reality is somewhat different. Here's what you can do if you face a long wait.

      EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

      What is Sweden’s ‘healthcare guarantee’? 

      Sweden’s “National Guaranteed Access to Healthcare” or vårdgaranti, is a right to care, protected by law, that has applied in Sweden since 2005. You can see the latest version of the relevant laws here and here. Here is a summary of the guarantee on the website of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR).

      Under the system, all patients are guaranteed:

      • contact with a primary care centre by phone, in-person, or by video-link on the day they seek care 
      • an appointment with a doctor, nurse, physio, or psychotherapist within three days of seeking help 
      • an appointment with a specialist doctor or consultant within 90 days of seeking help 
      • treatment or operation within 90 days, if the specialist considers this necessary 

      Does the guarantee mean I have a right to treatment? 

      No. If the doctor at the primary care centre, after examining you and questioning you, decides that there is no reason to refer you to a specialist doctor, they do not need to do so. 

      Similarly, if the specialist doctor, after examining you, decides that no treatment is necessary, then your case is considered completed.  

      Can the waiting times to see a specialist or to get treatment be longer than 90 days? 

      Absolutely. In fact, they very often are. 

      According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR), in February, 32 percent of patients had been waiting 90 days or more to see a specialist, and 43 percent of those who had seen a specialist had been waiting for treatment for more than 90 days.  

      The situation in primary care was a little better, with 80 percent of those seeking care in contact with their primary care centre on the same day, and 83 percent having their case assessed by a doctor or nurse within three days. 

      In addition, if you agree with your specialist doctor that you are willing to wait longer for an operation, then that wait doesn’t get counted in the statistics. 

      So what can I do if I’ve been waiting longer than the guaranteed time? 

      In reality, it’s actually less a guarantee than a target.

      In primary care, there is no way for individual patients to complain that they have had to wait too long to see a doctor or nurse, or to cut their waiting times by citing the guarantee. 

      “There’s no system for enforcing that guarantee,” says Emma Spak, the primary care doctor who doubles as section chief for SKR’s healthcare division. 

      It would make no sense to set up a complaints line for those who have had to wait too long for phone contact with their primary care centre, she points out, when they could instead talk to patients seeking a primary care appointment in the first place. 

      “It’s more of an incentive system for the regions,” she explains.

      Every primary care unit and every region reports their waiting times to the national waiting time register, and then as part of the access agreement between SKR and the government, the regional health authorities receive a bonus if they meet their waiting times goal, or if they improve their waiting times. “That’s one way of sort of enforcing this guarantee,” she says. 

      When it comes to specialist treatment, though, patients do have the right to demand to be examined or treated by an alternative specialist or hospital if they’ve had to wait longer than 90 days.

      If your primary care centre issues you a referral to a specialist, and the specialist cannot then offer you an appointment within 90 days, the specialist, at the same time as offering you a later appointment, will often put you in contact with a unit at the regional health authority who will offer to find you an alternative specialist, either within the region or elsewhere in Sweden. 

      The regional health authority will then have to reimburse any extra travel or hotel costs incurred by the patient.  

      Similarly, if after examining you, a specialist cannot offer you treatment within 90 days, they will normally put you in contact with the same unit. 

      Some regions have a phone line for people who have been waiting too long, or else you can contact your specialist or primary care centre and ask for information on seeking an alternative specialist. 

      What happens if I don’t want to travel to see a specialist or get treatment? 

      If your regional health authority offers you an alternative specialist, either within your region or in another region, so that you can get treated within the 90 day period, and you are unwilling to travel, then you lose your rights under the guarantee. . 

      “If you’re in Gothenburg, and they say you have to go to Stockholm to get your treatment, and you say, ‘no, I want to go here, then then you’ve sort of forfeited your right, and you have to take what’s on offer,” Spak says. 

      What happens if I agree with my specialist to wait longer? 

      If your specialist says that they can treat you in four months, but also offers you treatment elsewhere within the guaranteed 90 days, and you choose to be treated by your specialist, then that counts as a patient choice, which will not then be counted in the statistics. 

      “The specialist might say, ‘I don’t think you will get any worse for waiting two months extra, and if you wait five months, then I can make sure that you get your surgery done here, and we can make sure that you get all the aftercare and everything here as well,” Spak says. 

      But these patient decisions are also counted in the statistics, and if a region sees a sharp rise in patients choosing to wait, SKR will tend to investigate. 

      “If some region all of a sudden has a lot of patients choosing a longer waiting time, then we will call them and ask what’s going on here, because patients don’t tend to want to wait extra,” Spak says.  

      Can I get financial compensation if I’ve been waiting too long? 

      No. 

      What other ways are there of speeding up the wait for treatment? 

      Don’t underplay your symptoms

      When drawing up their timetable for treatment and assessment, specialists will tend to give different patients different wait times depending on the urgency of their case.

      For this reason, it’s important not to underplay your symptoms when visiting a primary care doctor, as they will tend to include a few lines on the urgency of your case when they write their referral. 

      Stress your flexibility 

      If you are unemployed, a student, retired, or have a very flexible job, it is worth telling your primary care doctor about this, because they may write in your referral that you are able to make appointments at very short notice. The specialist may then put you on their list of people to ring if one of their patients cancels. 

      “Sometimes I write in my referrals that this patient could easily come at short notice, so please put the patient on the list for people you can call if there’s a time slot available,” Spak says. 

      If you haven’t told your primary care doctor this, it’s not too late. You can ring the specialist yourself and tell their receptionist that you are very flexible, and ask to be put on the back-up list. This is particularly useful if you’re waiting for a scan, but you could also potentially work even if you’re waiting for heart surgery or a hip replacement. 

      “If they’ve accepted you as a patient, and they’ve made sure that you fulfil the criteria for having that scan or whatever, then you can call them and say, ‘I have a really flexible job, I can come anytime if you have a gap,'” Spak says.

      “A lot of people do that, because they can have [back-up] waiting lists. If you tell them ‘I work around the corner and I only need 15 minutes to be there’, then they might call you if someone doesn’t show up.” 

      Ring up your specialist 

      The queue system tends to be quite ad hoc, with no strict rules over who should be treated first, so it is often possible to reduce your wait by ringing up your specialist a few times a month, just to bring your case to their attention. Sometimes the receptionist will remember a slot that has just come free and bring forward your treatment while you are still on the telephone. 

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