Healthcare Services

Visiting a doctor in Germany

Read all about registering with a doctor in Germany, making appointments, filling prescriptions, and finding a specialist.

Doctor in Germany

By Naomi Kaye Honova

Updated 15-3-2024

When looking for a doctor or specialist in Germany, the healthcare system might feel daunting to those who are new to the country, especially if you face a language barrier. However, this article will help you navigate the system and find the best practitioner to meet your medical needs. Along the way, we’ll also explain how to get health insurance in Germany and even share some helpful German medical phrases

The article covers the following topics:

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Doctors in Germany

According to Destatis, Germany has 4.5 physicians per 1,000 residents, all providing a vast range of services, including women’s, children’s, mental, and sexual healthcare, as well as dental care. Doctors work in a variety of settings, including GP surgeries, hospitals, healthcare clinics, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and senior residences.

a doctor examining a patient at a doctor's surgery

Generally, doctor surgeries operate from 08:00 to 17:00, while doctors working in hospitals or rehabilitation centers rotate on 24-hour shifts.

Who can access doctors in Germany?

In Germany, you cannot see a doctor without first having health insurance. In fact, it is illegal for German citizens to be uninsured. Therefore, practitioners will ask for upfront payments if a patient is uninsured.

This legal requirement also applies to visitors to the country and non-German residents. That said, citizens from the EU/EEA and Switzerland who are visiting Germany or staying short-term can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to visit a doctor or access certain services. The card also covers most emergency care or minor medical issues. However, it can’t guarantee full coverage of all doctor visits and procedures when the bearer is not a German resident.

Importantly, non-EU residents and tourists who are visiting Germany on a short-term basis should consider getting international health insurance or travel insurance from a provider such as World Nomads or AXA. You can also compare travel insurance policies for Europe with Go Compare.

Finding a doctor in Germany

Generally, German residents can choose their primary care doctors regardless of location. That said, some practices will only register patients from their catchment area. If you are looking for a doctor (Hausarzt) or a pediatrician (Kinderarzt), it is best to ask around for recommendations. These doctors will be your first point of contact for most medical issues, so it is important to feel comfortable with them.

Pediatrician examines a baby

Many German residents also search for medical practitioners and book appointments online using the doctor rating site Jameda. You can also use online primary health platforms such as ZAVA and Doctena which connect patients with medical health professionals. Zava operates in Germany and Doctena across Europe. Additionally, you can search Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung (KBV) to find doctors in a specific region (Bundesland). KBV is the umbrella organization for individual statutory health insurance associations in Germany.

A quick Google search of medical practices in your neighborhood will also bring up some results. Meanwhile, directory listings will provide the contact details of local practitioners. Alternatively, you can call your insurance provider to request a list of doctors in the area; although they will only share details of those who accept their insurance.

Finding English-speaking doctors in Germany

Fortunately, many doctors in Germany – or at least in the major cities – can speak basic, if not fluent, English. Ideally, you should check with fellow English-speaking expats for recommendations or search online forums. The US consulate in Germany also provides listings of English-speaking doctors in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Bavaria. Likewise, the Irish embassy has collated a national list. Additionally, you can use Die Techniker’s online search tool to find an English-speaking doctor near you or call a practice directly and ask if English is a possibility.

It is important to be aware that there is no guarantee of finding an English-speaking doctor in smaller towns or villages in Germany. Therefore, if you don’t speak German, you might want to consider taking a translator or a local friend with you to an appointment. However, this may be a good motivator to learn German.

Registering with a doctor in Germany

In Germany, patients have the right to choose their doctors, such as general practitioners, pediatricians, and gynecologists. Therefore, they don’t have to register with a particular surgery and can see several different doctors throughout the year. This means that if you don’t like a doctor, you are not obliged to stay with that practice. That said, an advantage of staying with one practice is that the doctors and team get to know you, your family, and your medical history which can help in the long run.

Making an appointment with a doctor

Fortunately, making an appointment with a doctor in Germany is a straightforward process. You can call the practice directly, or, if the surgery offers it, book an appointment online via Doctolib, Jameda, or Doctena. You can also book a follow-up appointment directly with the receptionist. Depending on the medical situation, the next appointment could be anywhere from a week to six months in the future.

Notably, doctors’ surgeries have walk-in hours for urgent medical situations, which are known as Sprechstunden. This is similar to duty-doctor hours in the UK, where you don’t need an appointment. Still, it is best to call the practice first and see if you can schedule an appointment for that day. Otherwise, you can expect to face a long waiting time.

What to expect when visiting a doctor in Germany

When you arrive at the doctor’s surgery for your appointment, you first need to check-in at reception. You will need to show your Krankenversicherungskarte (health insurance card). If it is your first visit, you will also need to complete more paperwork. It is important to be aware that waiting times can be between 10 and 30 minutes. However, these vary depending on the practice, the time of day, and the number of doctors. For this reason, it is best to call in advance to ask about expected waiting times.

patients waiting in doctor's waiting room

A receptionist or doctor will summon patients from the waiting room. You will then follow them to an examination or consultation room. For a routine checkup, such as a child’s well-being exam, the doctor will proceed with the examination while explaining what is going on. Doctors in Germany tend to be direct and not waste a patient’s time with small talk, so it is best to arrive prepared with any questions you may have. After the consultation, the reception team can schedule the next appointment, if necessary.

Notably, some doctors in Germany offer online services which are covered by insurance. It is best to call an individual practice and ask. Although home visits are not common, doctors are occasionally dispatched for emergency home visits. In this case, private insurance may cover all the costs. You can also contact the on-call medical service at 116117.

Some pediatricians can also perform the U2 examination for newborn babies at home if the baby was born at a Geburtshaus (birth center) or at home. U2 refers to the postnatal check-up within the first week of giving birth.

Medical specialists in Germany

Germany has a well-developed healthcare system with many medical specialists in all branches of medicine, as follows:

an optometrist performing an eye examination

Any insured resident of Germany can obtain specialist care. For many specialist doctors, patients can call the practice directly or use a website to make an appointment. However, sometimes a referral is necessary to see a specialist, such as an oncologist. Waiting lists vary, depending on availability and urgency, so you can expect to see a specialist within a week or have to wait months.

Most specialists belong to professional bodies that govern their particular Bundesland (region), such as the Bundesärztekammer in Berlin or the Landesärztekammer in Bayern.

Finding a specialist in Germany

Finding and visiting a specialist is similar to visiting a general practitioner. You can ask for personal recommendations or search online platforms such as Jameda, Doctolib, and KBV. Alternatively, you can search English-speaking expat forums or check embassy listings, such as the US or Irish consulate, as mentioned earlier.

Visiting a specialist in Germany

Patients can register and book appointments with specialists online or by calling the practice directly. Specialists include gynecologists, pediatricians, urologists, entomologists, orthopedists; as well as Ear, Nose, and Throat (Hals-Nasen-Ohren or HNO) specialists. Notably, some specialists provide online consultations, so it’s worth checking with the individual practice.

However, for specific specialized fields, a patient will need a referral (Uberweisung) from a doctor. The doctor writing the referral will also recommend a particular practitioner. These highly specialized fields include radiology, human genetics, laboratory medicine, and oncology.

Appointment procedures for specialists are similar to doctor appointments. Likewise, waiting times also vary, depending on the urgency or the availability of the specialists. Therefore, it could take days, weeks, or even months before you have an appointment.

The costs of doctors and specialists

Most doctor visits in Germany, including pediatric examinations and annual health check-ups, are covered by health insurance. Generally, health insurance also covers all urgent medical care. However, typically, an uninsured visitor to Germany would need to pay upfront for treatments, but there may be exceptions on a case-to-case basis. These costs also vary depending on the required treatment.

Importantly, some healthcare services are not covered by health insurance. These include an HPV test, measurements of joint thickness, a hearing test, and toxoplasmosis testing during pregnancy. To clarify, neither public nor private insurance will pay for these tests. That said, it is always a good idea to call your insurance and ask, as there may be exceptions.

Woman at an acupuncture appointment

Additionally, if a patient wants to visit a Heilpraktiker (naturopath) for an exam or treatments such as acupuncture or craniosacral therapy, public insurance does not cover these costs; except if a doctor refers a patient to an acupuncturist. Privately insured patients, on the other hand, may have part or all of these costs reimbursed.

In some cases, patients need to pay the costs of these procedures directly after the doctor’s visit at the reception desk. Otherwise, they will receive a bill by post, which needs to be paid via bank transfer within a specific time frame.

Health insurance in Germany

It is mandatory for residents in Germany to have health insurance. The two types of health insurance available in the country are public (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) and private (private Krankenversicherung). As of 2020, just over eight million people in Germany were privately insured. However, there are no official statistics available to show what percentage of these patients are expats.

Fortunately, you can get public health insurance through your employer in Germany. This will usually also cover your spouse or partner and children. Students and apprentices can also access public insurance.

Residents of Germany with health insurance, be it public, private, or a combination, can visit doctors and specialists. Their health insurance will fully or partially cover the majority of visits and procedures in the country. Just be mindful that private doctors may not accept public-insured patients. You can find more information about this in the section on private doctors.

Similar to general medical treatment, public and private insurance also cover most specialist treatment, such as radiology, urology, and immunology. That said, only private insurance will cover alternative medical specialists such as osteopaths, acupuncturists, or chiropractors.

Those not eligible for public health insurance (e.g., employees of a foreign corporation or temporary visitors) or residents wanting a higher level of coverage can supplement with private health insurance.

Some of the main international health insurance companies operating in Germany include:

Private doctors and specialists in Germany

Germany has private doctors and specialists in the healthcare system. Some private doctors and specialists will only see privately insured patients. Therefore, a patient with public insurance cannot access these doctors. Likewise, some expats with private insurance choose to see private doctors, including general practitioners, pediatricians, and psychologists. Notably, these doctors tend to have shorter waiting times and may provide more alternative medicine options that are covered by private insurance. You can use the Privatärztlicher Bundesverband – PBV (federal association of private doctors) search tool to find private doctors in the country.

Additionally, there are private clinics, such as rehabilitation centers and private hospitals in Germany. However, the system can be complicated as private clinics and hospitals may also take patients with public insurance. Therefore, it is best to contact the facility directly to enquire about their admission policy.

Generally, public healthcare does not cover alternative practitioners, such as a Heilpraktiker (naturopath) or an Osteopath (osteopath). However, most private health insurance will reimburse these visits, but the patient must clarify it in their claim. However, if a doctor refers a patient to an alternative practitioner for something like back pain, public health insurance may cover part of it. Notably, paying out of pocket for these can be expensive, ranging from €80 to €120 per visit.

Doctor prescriptions

While doctors in Germany will always prescribe necessary medication, most try to find solutions that don’t require a prescription. Therefore, many only prescribe antibiotics as a last resort. In contrast to countries like the US, doctors occasionally recommend alternative, herbal, or home treatments, too.

a pharmacy or aphotheke in Germany

A German doctor will write a paper Rezept (prescription) when medication is necessary. However, E-Rezept (electronic prescriptions) will also be available from January 2022. A patient can then take this to an Apotheke (pharmacy) to be filled. An E-prescription can potentially be filled by an online pharmacy.

German health insurance will cover the costs of most prescribed medications, but the doctor should inform you if health insurance may not fully cover the costs. An example of this would be birth control pills, which are only partly covered by insurance and require a prescription. Out-of-pocket costs for birth control pills are typically between €4 and €15 per month.

German residents can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, or cough syrup, in their local pharmacy without a prescription. Again, these are out-of-pocket costs. However, these medications are usually inexpensive with paracetamol costing less than €2 for a pack. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe an OTC medication in which case, public health insurance will cover the cost.

Medical tests in Germany

Medical testing in Germany is different from some other countries. For instance, there may be fewer tests or they may not be done upon the patient’s request if the doctor does not deem them necessary. As an example, it is relatively standard for infants around 12 months to have a blood check for anemia in the US. However, in Germany, pediatricians will not recommend this unless there are significant concerns for anemia.

That said, if they think it is required, doctors and pediatricians can perform several medical tests on location, such as specific blood tests, newborn hip ultrasound, and urine sample testing; the latter checks for urinary tract infections or pregnant women’s iron levels. If a patient insists on further testing, they may need to self-advocate; hence, insurance may not fully cover the requested tests.

Some medical test results can be available immediately during the doctor’s visit. Conversely, an independent laboratory may need to analyze other samples. The patient will receive the results by mail, or the doctor will call them directly.

Emergency doctors in Germany

In a medical emergency in Germany, you have two options. You can call, 112 (the European emergency number) in critical situations such as heart attacks, excessive bleeding, severe burns, drowning, or anything that warrants immediate treatment and can be life-threatening.

However, if you or your family have an urgent medical issue that is not life-threatening, you can go to the nearest accident and emergency department (Notaufnahme). The patient navigation portal – Patienten-Navi – will guide you step-by-step on what to do next. Alternatively, when you don’t know how to proceed or where to seek treatment, you can call 116117. In some situations, a doctor may also conduct an emergency home visit.

Again, it is illegal for German residents to be uninsured. Therefore, paying upfront would likely only apply to tourists who don’t have full travel insurance.

Making a complaint about doctors or specialists in Germany

Patients in Germany have the legal right to file complaints about doctors, specialists, or hospitals. The first recommended step is to talk directly to the practitioner or facility. The issue could have been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication due to a language barrier.

However, if the situation can’t be resolved, the next step is to have a free-of-charge Beschwerdegespraech (complaint consultation) with a medical complaint organization such as Patientenberatung or Kassenärztliche Bundesvereiningung (KBV). Additionally, a patient can file a written complaint to the practitioner or hospital or talk to their health insurance provider about the proceedings. Usually, a hospital or practice website clearly explains the complaint procedure.

Depending on the complexity of the situation and the parties involved, feedback on patient complaints can be prompt or take weeks or months to resolve. However, a complaint of malpractice is serious and will require legal involvement.

Useful German medical phrases

Das tut wehThis hurts
Ich wuerde gerne einen Termin abmachenI would like to make an appointment
Ich bin in der gesetzlichen/privaten KrankenversicherungI am publicly or privately insured
Einige meiner Symptomen sindSome of my symptoms include…
Juckende hautItchy skin
Ich habe FieberI have a fever
Meine Krankheit ist dringendMy illness is urgent
Ich brauche einen KrankenwagenI need an ambulance
Jemand atmet nichtSomeone is not breathing
Ich habe mich verbranntI have gotten burned

Useful resources

  • Apotheke Umschau (in German) – a great resource for illnesses, therapies, and information about German pharmacies and prescriptions
  • Bundesarztekammer (in German/English/French) – the national German doctors’ organization
  • Doctena (in English) – an online search tool that allows you to find and book doctor appointments
  • Arzt Auskunft (in German) – a search function for locating doctors in your area