Expats have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a doctor in Germany, as the country boasts one of the highest numbers of practising physicians in the European Union.
It’s not only because the country is large — it also has one of the highest ratios of doctors per inhabitants, meaning that residents generally have more choice wherever they live in comparison to other countries, though the density may be higher in the cities rather than rural areas. Furthermore, whether you have statutory health insurance or private health insurance, you are free to choose whichever doctor you like.
Company health insurance fund Siemens-Betriebskrankenkasse, open to all residents in Germany, offers tips to help expats find a doctor in Germany that suits their needs.
|Award-winning SBK (Siemens-Betriebskrankenkasse) is among the biggest German company health insurance funds. As a health insurance provider available nationally and open for everyone who lives in Germany, it covers more than 1 million people and serves over 100,000 corporate customers with tailor-made offers and customer-specific counselling. With branches all over the world, SBK has supported employees during their start in their new home country for decades, and was elected Germany’s most popular statutory health insurance for the fourth time in 2017.|
Finding a doctor in Germany
The healthcare system in Germany is one of the best in the world, thanks to its affordability, accessibility and primary care. Residents are required to have health insurance, but they may choose their own provider; those who fulfil other requirements (e.g. income greater than EUR 57,600 or self-employment) have the option to enrol in private health insurance rather than statutory health insurance.
Those who are enrolled with a statutory health insurance provider may choose any doctor registered with the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, which comprises more than 145,000 general practitioners and specialists in outpatient care.
There are plenty of ways to find doctors in Germany. Personal recommendations from neighbours, friends and new colleagues may be useful, but this may be difficult for expats who have no immediate network in Germany. Expats may also visit their country’s embassy, although they may have limited information or offer information about doctors only in larger cities.
There are also several searchable databases:
- Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians: Provides links to regional, searchable databases of physicians, including but not limited to Bavaria, Berlin and Hamburg. Some are available only in German.
- DocInsider: A searchable database with which you can also rate doctors and other healthcare providers. Requires signup and is available only in German.
- Jameda: A searchable database of doctors by name, specialty and more. No signup required, but only available in German.
One of the best resources, however, can be your health insurance provider. They may provide a list of recommended physicians, either by request or online. Some select health insurance providers may even provide tailored advice in selecting a doctor, which can be invaluable for patients who may not be able to search databases on their own.
A list of names may not be enough when trying to find a doctor in Germany on your own, especially if you have a chronic condition or are particularly anxious about doctor visits. When searching for a doctor, it’s important to keep a few factors in mind.
Find a doctor in Germany that speaks your language
Even if you are well on your way to becoming fluent in German as an expat, discussing your health or the health of a loved one is an important personal matter. Many patients feel more comfortable discussing such topics in their own language to ensure they both understand the doctor and describe the symptoms clearly, leaving no room for misunderstanding.
Doctors in Germany must speak German fluently, of course, but there is also a growing number of foreign doctors practising in the country. According to the German Medical Association, 11 percent of practising physicians in Germany have a foreign nationality; in addition, Germans generally have a fairly high level of English proficiency. For expats in Germany, these factors increase the chances that you will find a doctor that speaks your native language or a language in which you are more comfortable.
Many of the databases mentioned above, particularly the databases from the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, offer fields that narrow your search down by language, allowing you to pick a doctor with whom you can communicate in the language you are most comfortable in.
Office hours and availability
Expats who work within standard working hours must often take time off work to visit the doctor, but some professions may make it more difficult to do so. Some physicians in Germany have extended office hours or may be more flexible in scheduling patients. In either case, it is recommended that you make an appointment.
Off surgery hours and for non-life-threatening issues that still require immediate attention, you can call the non-emergency medical service at 116 117 to reach the on-call doctor. If you experience a medical emergency, dial 112 to call for emergency services. Calls can be conducted in German and English, as well as other European languages, and your location will be noted immediately. Statutory health insurance providers will bear the costs of the emergency response, but you may be responsible for a small co-pay.
Ensure your choice of doctor feels right
For expats, and especially those with chronic conditions that necessitate frequent doctor visits, a doctor that shows not just medical skills but superior interpersonal skills may be the deciding factor. Patients should make sure that the doctor provides clear instructions and that specialists demonstrate expertise in their particular field.
Patients can check out the websites such as DocInsider and Jameda for reviews from other patients, but perhaps the most important factor of all is to find a doctor that treats you as an equal partner in treatment. There are also other issues to consider:
- Location: It is important to ensure that the doctor’s office is located within a reasonable distance, especially if you have a chronic condition and need to visit frequently. However, if there is a limited number of doctors in your region, it may be helpful to widen your search area to include neighbouring regions, or even smaller towns outside a major city.
- Attitude: Both the doctor and the practice’s personnel should be friendly and respectful with their patients as well as with each other.
- Choice of treatment: Patients in Germany have the right to determine their course of treatment, and the doctor should allow you to freely choose without forcing their opinion. They should also allow you the time, depending on the urgency of the medical situation, to make an informed decision.
- Insurance coverage: The doctor should be able to inform you whether the treatment is covered under your insurance. You should also be able to get straightforward information regarding individual healthcare services, or IGeL, for which you must pay out of pocket.
When choosing a doctor, you are putting your health in someone’s hands — it’s important that choosing the doctor isn’t just a logistical decision based on convenience, but one based on your personal needs.