There are many reasons why you need to see a doctor in Germany – a check-up, for a specific complaint or in an emergency – so make sure you are prepared. All expatriates should sign up for a GP when they relocate abroad. Here is a guide to all these elements.
As with most areas of life in a new country, it is useful to know some key words relating to the topic at hand.
· Allgemeinarzt, hausarzt – these both mean GP
· Facharzt – specialist
· Krankenhaus – hospital
· Klinik – clinic
· Medizin – medicine
· Apotheke – pharmacy
· Krankenwagen – ambulance
· Schmerztabletten – pain killers
· Verhütung – contraception
· Notaufnahme – emergency room
Finding a doctor
The old-fashioned way of finding a doctor in your new location by looking in the phone directory still works, but this has a number of flaws. For a start, there are likely to be so many it can be overwhelming.
Most embassies or consulates have a list of recommended physicians in each area, so this can be a good way to start whittling down the numbers. Then you can go on the internet and see reviews from other patients.
Despite these tools, nothing beats a personal recommendation, so try and ask other expats which practice they have signed up to and whether they have had a good experience.
This is an area where being a member of an expat forum can be particularly helpful, as a quick post asking for advice is likely to gain multiple responses.
If you do not speak German, finding a doctor that speaks English will be immensely helpful in future.
Making an appointment
Normal working hours for GPs in Germany are 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday with two hours off between 1pm and 3pm for lunch. Many practices are also closed on a Wednesday afternoon, so bear this in mind when trying to get an appointment.
Non-urgent matters are often assigned a slot days or weeks in advance, due to the large numbers of patients doctors have. If you have a condition that needs immediate attention it is best to take advantage of the open door policy, which is common.
This means turning up at the surgery, checking in with the receptionist and then waiting your turn. Such an approach can take a long time, but you will be seen within the same day.
What to take with you
On your first appointment you will likely be asked to fill in a form about your medical history, so it is useful to have any information relating to that with you.
It will also be necessary to show documents relating to your expat insurance to show how your consultation and treatment will be funded.
Bringing along a form of ID, such as a passport and a proof of address in Germany is also a good idea, so that you can verify you are who you say you are.
Attending an appointment
After giving your name to the receptionist, go to the waiting room and be sure to greet all the other patients waiting, because this is a German custom that differs from the UK.
Less emphasis is put on privacy than you may be used to and it is common for a doctor to ask you to undress so they can give you a full examination.
If your doctor does not speak English be sure to look up the words for your symptoms in advance and take a dictionary or a close friend that is fluent in German along with you.
Always return to the reception desk before you leave so you can be given a prescription, sick note, referral or follow-up appointment. Any bills to be presented to your insurance company will be sent to you in the post within a couple of days.
Call 112 or 19222 for an ambulance to take you to hospital.
If you have a serious complaint that requires attention from your regular doctor out of hours, call the surgery, as the answer machine message often includes numbers to use during these circumstances.