Visiting a Physician
Soon after enrolling in a health care plan, you will receive a health insurance card (Gesundheitskarte) with a microchip and passport photo, which resembles a credit card. 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.
There are two basic possibilities for visiting health care providers – you either make an appointment (Termin) or drop in during the open visiting hours (Sprechstunde). The times for these visiting hours are almost always posted, either on the front door or gate of the doctor’s building or online.
Open 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.
Choosing a Doctor
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. Remember that the German system does not require you to stay with any one doctor so 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.
Dental care in Germany can be excellent, but it’s also expensive. For major dental work involving bridges, crowns or orthodontics, you must get a cost estimate (Heil- und Kostenplan) and present it to your insurer prior to treatment. Otherwise, you could be faced with an expensive bill to be paid out of your own pocket. For those belonging to the state health insurance plan, you may have to pay between 50 percent and 100 percent for dental work if you do not have supplemental dental insurance. Those with private insurance will fare much better, but it pays to take a close look at exactly what is covered.
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. Most doctors in Germany have a basic command 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 the Rhein-Main region, you should contact:
American International Women‘s Club of the Taunus maintains a list based on members‘ experiences, but to access the list you should be a member.
British Club of Taunus puts new members in contact with existing local members to recommend doctors, dentists, etc.
The US Consulate also maintain 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 Service (ärztlicher Notdienst). These emergency telephone numbers depend on where you live. These services offer considerable advice as to what you should do 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.