Very soon after becoming enrolled in a health care plan, you will receive a plastic card with a microchip, which resembles a credit card. As with a credit card, it is important that you sign on the back as soon as you get it. You will be asked to present this card every time you visit a health care provider. For most treatments, including all basic care and check-ups, you needn’t pay any additional fees.
If you are a member of the state health plan, you will have to pay 10 euros per quarter in cash which will be collected by the first doctor and dentist you visit. Should you need to visit a different practitioner during that same quarter, you will have to provide the receipt that you already paid the 10 euros. So always keep your receipt. You will also have to pay 10 euros each time you visit an emergency room. Children are exempt from this rule.
There are two basic possibilities for visiting health care providers – you can either make an appointment (Termin) or drop in during the regular visiting hours (Sprechstunden). The times for these visiting hours are almost always posted, either on the front door or gate of the doctor’s building. A notice is also generally posted when the doctor plans to go on vacation, indicating the name of a substitute doctor during this period should you unexpectedly need care while your regular doctor is away. Regular visiting hours tend to fall within the standard working day, so you might need to take time off your job to see a health care provider. No employer is allowed to deny you time off to see a doctor or dentist if you are sick or in great pain. This right is guaranteed by law. You can also expect to wait quite a while when you drop in during regular visiting hours.
While many people initially choose a health care provider near their home or workplace, a better strategy is to ask friends or colleagues for a recommendation. Doctors’ personalities and approaches to patients can vary widely. Some can give you the impression that you are merely a screw to be turned on their assembly line, while others are friendlier and frequently invite you to participate in preventative measures.
Remember that the German system does not require you to stay with any one doctor. If you’re dissatisfied, you can always seek treatment with another, and even get treatment for the same ailment if you feel your first doctor is not doing a good job.
With most health problems, you’re strongly advised to go to a general practitioner first and only then seek treatment with a specialist – if your regular doctor believes you need it. Your general practitioner will give you a referral (Überweisung) for the appropriate specialist if necessary and, in many cases, also recommend a few good specialists. One other important point: some doctors will only accept private patients, which means that if you’re in a statutory insurance plan, you either have to pass up these providers or pay entirely out of your own pocket when you seek treatment from them.
Potentially, one of the most frustrating aspects of living in a foreign country is not being able to communicate with your doctor in your own language. Don’t worry: most doctors in Germany have a basic level of English, but not all receptionists. Nevertheless, in most offices there should be at least one employee who can handle the details of your visit. If you are looking for English-speaking doctors and dentists in Germany, you should contact:
- The American Women's Club of the Taunus maintains a list based on members' experiences, but to access the list you should be a member. Tel: 06171 - 580 835, www.awctaunus.org
- The British Club of the Taunus puts new members in contact with existing local members to recommend doctors, dentists, etc. www.british-club.de
- The US Consulate maintains a list of English-speaking doctors at: http://germany.usembassy.gov/acs/lists/
Should you suddenly need treatment outside the regular working hours for most doctors, try calling your own doctor: he may have a recorded message telling you how he can be reached. If this fails, you should call the Emergency Doctors’ Service (ärztlicher Notdienst). These emergency telephone numbers depend on where you live (see separate section on emergency telephone numbers). These services offer considerable advice as to where you can go and, in some cases, even dispatch a physician to your home. However, if your problem appears to be very serious, even life threatening, you should call the police or the fire department.