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Going to See a Doctor in Germany

You will get to inspect waiting rooms and magazines in detail when visiting a German doctor's practice.

Moreover, if you aren’t self-employed or a stay-at-home parent, your company requires a health insurance certificate from a doctor in Germany in case you need sick leave.

So just start looking for a good general physician (GP) or family doctor in Germany (Allgemeinarzt, Hausarzt). If you suffer from a condition in need of special treatment, they can recommend you a specialist (Facharzt) or refer you to a hospital (Klinik, Krankenhaus). The average doctor in Germany has fairly high quality standards. In fact, German doctors, medical facilities, and specialists rank among the best in the world.

However, any doctor in Germany may turn out to be old-fashioned or stressed out from having too many patients. Therefore you should scrutinize any doctor in Germany whom you visit for the first time:

  • Is their practice clean and modern?
  • Do they have enough time to answer your questions and allay your concerns?
  • Do they take your condition seriously? Do they seem up-to-date on treatments?
  • Are they willing to make home visits?

If you get a favorable impression, you should make them your primary doctor in Germany.

How to find a doctor in Germany

Of course, every doctor in Germany is listed in the local phone directory (Gelbe Seiten) under Ärzte. However, in major cities, there are a great number of physicians, with more than one doctor in most neighborhoods. If you don’t know which doctor in Germany to choose, please contact your embassy or consulate. They usually have lists with recommended doctors for most regions, especially in urban areas. Those physicians are often very busy, however.

Then there’s always the Internet: German websites like DocInsider offer ratings and rankings by other patients. The best way of finding a trustworthy doctor in Germany or elsewhere is by word-of-mouth: Ask people you are in contact with which doctors and specialists they frequent.

What about health insurance?

Having no German health insurance means having to pay upfront for everything – unless it’s a serious emergency. Most EU citizens will get reimbursement for such emergency treatments by reciprocal insurance coverage between Germany and their home countries. Nationals of other states, however, depend on the insurance plan they have in their country of origin.

For these and other reasons, acquiring German health insurance is definitely recommended. Even then, there are certain details to consider: Some doctors only accept patients with private insurance. If you have public health insurance, make sure to look for a Kassenarzt who treats Alle Kassen (patients with any sort of German health insurance).

How to make an appointment with a doctor in Germany

We recommend planning ahead when making an appointment with a doctor in Germany: Popular doctors and specialists often have lots of patients and long waiting periods. You may not get an appointment for days or even weeks. If your case is urgent, e.g. because you contracted the flu overnight, just go see your general physician: Many a family doctor in Germany has an “open door policy” – still, prepare to spend some time in the waiting room. Most practices have office hours from Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., with two hours of lunch break between and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Many practices close on Wednesday afternoon.

What to do in an emergency

Should you need urgent care outside regular office hours, you can do one of the following things:

  • Call your regular doctor. Even if they have already left the practice, the recording on their answering machine might tell you the phone number of the nearest emergency doctor.
  • Look up the section called Ärztlicher Notdienst or Ärztlicher Bereitschaftsdienst (emergency calendar) in the current newspaper. It lists all physicians on stand-by for emergency duty, numbers of emergency hotlines, and pharmacies with 24/7 service.
  • Take a taxi to the emergency room (Notaufnahme) of the nearest hospital.
  • Call 112 or 19222 for an ambulance.

Your doctor’s appointment – step by step

If you have a regular appointment with your family doctor in Germany, simply show up a few minutes in advance. First, you need to talk to the doctor’s assistant or receptionist (Sprechstundenhilfe, Arzthelfer/-in) and tell them your name. Please keep in mind that quite a few assistants speak little or no English (or any other foreign languages). You have to hand them your health insurance ID card and, if you see a doctor for the very first time, you may also have to fill out a (German) questionnaire on your medical history.

Then it’s time to settle in the waiting room. Even if you have kept your appointment, you may have to wait for about an hour in busy practices. By the way, an odd German custom dictates that everyone greets the other patients when they enter the waiting room and says goodbye when they leave.

Once you get to meet the doctor, you might face a language barrier. While most every younger doctor in Germany can speak English, don’t rely on anyone to be fluent or to know any other language. Ask your embassy for a list of bilingual physicians, take a dictionary with you, or bring a close friend or family member to translate for you.

There are also some cultural differences between a doctor’s appointment in Germany and other countries: Privacy is of less importance, so you may have to undress in front of the physician. Your doctor in Germany may often be rather authoritative. If you’d like to get more information on your condition or pursue alternative treatments, ask them politely, but directly. Otherwise, they will simply expect you to follow their recommendations.

After the exam, the receptionist hands you the required prescriptions, referral to a specialist or a sick leave certificate and asks you for a follow up appointment, if necessary. If your insurance plan shouldn’t cover all costs or if you are privately insured (and thus have to pay everything yourself at first), the administrative staff will send you the bill in the following days. 

 

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