Health Life-in-Germany

A visit to a doctor


There’s perhaps nothing more unpleasant than an injury or illness that threatens to spoil your semester abroad. Have no fear – the German health care system is one of the best in the world, and even with a sprained ankle, you’ll be able to take small hurdles like prescriptions, consultation fees and referrals in stride.

Excited and full of anticipation, 25-year-old Ryan from Louisiana (USA) arrived in Jena to study German Studies. But only a few days later, he was out of commission. “My leg gave way right in the middle of the soccer game,” he recalls. In the end, his team suffered a crushing defeat, and Ryan suffered a painful sprain to his ankle. Which actually wasn’t a big problem, because he had taken out a health insurance policy before the semester started. But for now, all he needed was some pain relievers, which he could buy at the corner supermarket, right?

No. 1: Only pharmacies sell medication!

Ryan explains with a smirk that he didn’t want to go to the doctor. A package of pain relievers was all he needed, he thought, and hobbled off to the nearest supermarket. But all he ended up getting was incredulous looks, and not just because of his southern accent. In Germany, most medication can only be obtained in pharmacies (Apotheken) and only trained pharmacists are permitted to sell prescription and over-the-counter medication. Not only did Ryan get pain relievers at the pharmacy, but “luckily for him”, as he admits, they advised him to see a doctor.

No. 2: Consult first with your general practitioner!

No sooner said than done! Ryan went to see a general practitioner, called a Hausarzt. There are three advantages to consulting with a general practitioner before going to the hospital or seeing a specialist:
1. General practitioners can help you if you suffer from a bad cold, headache, etc., thereby saving you the hassle of going to the hospital.
2. General practitioners have a fuller understanding of your medical history and know how to treat you better.
3. General practitioners are well-trained for treating most illnesses and injuries – from the common cold to appendicitis. Based on this experience, they can best judge whether you need to see a specialist. In Ryan’s case, the doctor suspected he had torn a ligament in his ankle joint and referred him to a sport physician.

No. 3: Remember the consultation fee!

For several years now, patients in Germany have been required to pay a ten-euro consultation fee. “I was somewhat surprised at first – ten euros for the general practitioner, ten euros for the sports physician and maybe I’d have to go the dentist. That would be 30 euros in one week! And I thought my health insurance would pay for it all!”, Ryan remembers. But it didn’t end up being so expensive. Another advantage of seeing a general practitioner is that he or she can refer you to other doctors. A referral is like a prescription – permission from your doctor to seek treatment from a certain specialist. With a referral in hand, you only have to pay the ten-euro consultation fee once every quarter (i.e. every three months). [Right now you do not have to pay this 10 euro fees. It has been abolished. Thanks.]

Our advice: Try to arrange all your doctor appointments in one quarter for non-urgent matters, e.g., skin screenings and dental checkups. Consultation fees are generally not charged for preventative medical exams, such as breast and prostate cancer screening.

No. 4: Medical treatment is not free – but almost.

Ryan received a prescription for an ointment and a splint to stabilise his ankle. “The bill”, Ryan says, “seemed very reasonable to me.”  He had to pay five euros for the splint and another five for the ointment. The reason for this is that students in Germany must pay a five-euro surcharge for all prescription medication regardless of whether it costs 15 or 150 euros. Of course, discretionary over-the-counter medicine has to be paid in full.

And today? It’s been a half a year since Ryan’s accident, and by the way he demonstrates how he can wriggle his foot, it appears his injury has completely healed. “There’s just one problem that no German doctor can fix,” he confesses with a grin. “Our soccer team is still losing!”

Helpful links: If you would like to visit a doctor who can definitely speak English, you can find more information on the following websites, that tell you where to find english speaking doctors in MunichCologneHesse and Jena.


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