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Germanys' healthcare system explained

How to survive your first doctor's appointment in German

culture language Sep 08, 2022

Hatschi! - Gesundheit!

Oho! Looks like you might get a cold. If it's not getting any better, it's time to see a doctor.

Oh, sorry, where are my manners! I totally forgot to introduce myself! I am Steffi your German friend ready to help you with anything German related!

I assume you live in Germany or you're planning a trip to Germany, right? In any case one of the most important things you should research is the country's health care system. (= das Gesundheitssystem) Chances are high that it's different in your home country.

If I am correct, there are a few questions you might already ask yourself:


  • How does the process work? Do I need to book an appointment with my doctor in advance or can I just go there?
  • Aua! My ear hurts! I need an ENT doctor, but whats that in German? What am I a searching for? (It's HNO btw - Hals-Nasen-Ohren-Arzt 👃🏻👂🏼)


I am happy to answer these question for you! Also, bist du bereit? So, are you ready?

In this blog post, we will go over the basics of the German health care system, as well as some useful words and phrases that will come very handy when you need to speak to the doctor in German or when you need to book an appointment. 

Types of insurance

The German health care system is a bit different from what most people are used to. So don't worry if you find it a bit overwhelming at the beginning, that's normal! You are not alone!

But let's start at the very beginning: In Germany, there are two types of health insurance: public and private.


Public health insurance is mandatory for everyone who lives and works in Germany, and the monthly insurance fee is automatically deducted from your salary.

Private health insurance is not mandatory, but it can be a good option for people who are self-employed or have a higher income.


If you have public health insurance, you will be able to choose from plenty of approved doctors and hospitals. You will also be reimbursed for most of your medical expenses.

If you have private health insurance, you can choose any doctor or hospital you want, also the waiting time for an appointment is usually much shorter, but you will have to pre-pay the full cost of your medical care. You will receive the money from your health insurance after you sent them the invoice. 


Making an appointment

Okay, so your cold did not disappear. No worries, German doctors are very qualified and I am sure they will take good care of you!


But what doctor do I actually need?

This is an excellent question! There are many different kind of doctors in Germany. You can find a list with the German titles of doctors here.


But don't just go the doctor, chances are high that they will send you home again. You cannot just walk into a doctor's office and expect to be seen right away. You need to make an appointment first. The only exception is the Akutsprechstunde. Some doctors offer a Akutsprechstunde, usually it's one hour a week, and it means that you can go there without scheduling a meeting.

To schedule an appointment, you can either call the doctor's office or go online and schedule an appointment through their website or through an app called Doctolib which makes scheduling a lot easier. Believe me, I only use Doctolib, it's saves a lot of time. 


Don't forget to specify what type of visit it is. Is it a regular check-up (Kontrollbesuch)? Do you need to see a specialist (Facharzt)? Are you sick (Bist du krank)?

The reason why this is important is because some doctors only see patients for certain types of visits. For example, you might need to see a primary care doctor for a regular check-up, but if you are sick, you might need to see a specialist.



Here are some key phrases that you will need sooner or later:

💬 Ich möchte einen Termin vereinbaren. - I would like to make an appointment.

💬 Was ist der Grund für Ihren Termin? - What is the reason for your appointment?

💬 Ich habe... = I have... + your symptoms


Here are the most common symptoms:

🤕 Ich habe Kopfschmerzen. - I have a headache.

🦷 Ich habe Zahnschmerzen. - I have toothache.

🥴 Ich habe Bauchschmerzen. - I have abdominal pain.

🤒 Ich habe Fieber. - I have fever.

😮‍💨 Ich habe Husten. - I have a cough.

🤧 Ich habe Schnupfen. - My nose is running.

🤮 Mir ist schlecht. - I feel sick.

😷 Ich habe eine Erkältung. - I have a cold.


Going to the doctor

Jehu, you got your appointment. When you go to the doctor's office for the first time, you will be asked to fill out a medical history form. This form is important because it helps your doctor understand your medical history and better treat you.

After you fill out the form, the doctor will see you for a consultation. During the consultation, the doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. I recommend you to write down your symptoms in German on a piece of paper, this will make this conversation much easier and you won't forget anything.

Based on the consultation, your doctor will either diagnose you with a specific condition and prescribe you medication or refer you to a specialist.


Prescriptions and pharmacies

  • If the doctor prescribes you medication, they will give you a physical prescription (a piece of paper). Take this to a pharmacy of your choice to receive your medication. Be aware that not all medicine is covered by the insurance and you might have to pay some Euros for it.
  • It is important to note that the pharmacy might not have the medication you need in stock. Better don't wait until last minute to get your medication! In this case the pharmacy will order it for you and you can pick it up on the following day the latest. 


I hope this blog post could give you a good impression of the German health care system and you are ready to fight your next cold.

Remember, if you have any questions, you can always ask your doctor or a pharmacist for help.


Bleib gesund,



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