Finding a Doctor in Germany
Choosing a doctor in Germany can be an intimidating process because of the language difference, but it doesn't need to be. The decision is of course as important as was choosing your doctor back home and can be approached in some of the same ways. You can refer to the yellow pages (Gelbe Seiten) in which doctors can be found by specialty. Or, often the best way, ask a colleague or friend. The best references can be by word of mouth. There are also several websites that list doctors by specialty or location. One such website has an English language search page: www.med-kolleg.de. Click on DocSearch on the upper left.
Other good sources are the university clinics (Kliniken) in major cities that provide outpatient services in addition to hospitalization. These clinics are staffed usually by highly skilled doctors who often speak English.
Some of the differences between medical care in Germany and other countries (particularly the USA) are the styles in which doctors interact with patients. In the USA there is a "Patients Bill of Rights" that doctors and hospitals must follow if they are to be approved by the American Medical Association. Under these rules patients must be advised of treatment, prognosis, alternative treatments, diagnosis and risks. German doctors have no such rules and may not be accustomed to discussing these things unless you specifically ask. So it's a good idea to come prepared to ask questions.
To help with the question asking you may want to bring a supportive person who speaks German or a seasoned colleague. And an English-German dictionary can be your best friend. It's helpful to practice questions and answers ahead of time.
It's common for doctors here to have a private practice and be on a hospital staff. That's why office hours (Sprechstunden) may be more limited. Doctors in private practice usually have office hours Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., except Wednesday afternoons when most doctors' offices are closed. Although, you may have an appointment many doctors serve patients on a first come, first serve basis and you may wait a long time to be seen. A Hausarzt (generally equivalent to a General Practitioner or Primary Care Physician) usually has an "open door" policy but an appointment is still recommended. Your Hausarzt may also be able to recommend a specialist if you require one.
Making an Appointment
When making an appointment either by telephone or in person, the first person you will speak to is the Arzthelfer or doctors assistant. He or she may not speak English but won't ask many questions about why you want to see the doctor. Usually you need only to request a day and time for an appointment. If it is for an extraordinary reason you may want to specify the reason for your visit. Otherwise, you can give your medical history to the doctor.
Some helpful phrases for an appointment are:
Ich möchte einen Termin machen. I would like to make an appointment, and
Es ist dringend. Haben Sie keinen fruheren Termin? It is urgent. Don't you have an earlier appointment?
If you wish to speak to a doctor on the phone before or after your visit, you must pay normally a fee.
Outside Normal Office Hours
When you have an urgent medical situation during evenings, weekends and holidays, there is always a doctor available. These doctors provide after-hours medical assistance.
You can find an "on-call" emergency physician by:
- calling your own doctor. If he or she is not available, there will probably be a recorded message giving the telephone number of an emergency doctor.
- calling the Notdienst (110 nationwide) or Artzlicher Notdienst for the name of a doctor in your area.
- going directly to the hospital or emergency room.
- calling your local police or hospital.
- checking your local paper (either the print edition or online).
To find the emergency doctor in your area thumb through your local paper looking for the heading Notdienst Kalender (emergency calendar) or Notdienste (Most, but not all, papers have this information in their online editions.) In this section you will find the telephone numbers of after hour: Arzte (doctors), Zahnarzte (dentists), Augenarzte (eye doctors), Tierarzte (veterinarians) Apotheke (Pharmacies), Krankentransporte (ambulance service), and Feuerwehr (fire department). Some papers also list Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, AIDS help, therapists and taxi service. But this varies greatly depending on where you live.
Using this section of the newspaper can be an invaluable resource. However, because information varies depending on where you live, and because it is in German, it may be difficult to pick up or go online and use, especially in an urgent situation. A strong recommendation is to become familiar with your local newspaper information by reviewing it in language lessons or with the help of a German-speaking friend. By doing this you will know right where to turn in many situations.
For information on how doctor bills are paid, see the separate article on Paying Medical Expenses and Insurance Claims.