What to Do When Sick or Injured in Germany
Germany has an excellent healthcare system, but it can feel a bit intimidating to navigate as a foreigner. Use this quick guide to get started!
How urgent is it?
If you have a medical emergency, you should call 112.
This will connect you to emergency medical assistance and ambulance services. This number works all over Europe.
You can find more information in our post about emergency services.
If you need medical assistance but it’s not life threatening, you can call 116 117.
This number works in Germany Monday-Thursday from 7:00pm to 7:00am, and Friday 2:00pm until Monday 7:00. It also operates around the clock on public holidays.
If you need to see a doctor outside of normal office hours, you can go to one of the local hospitals. Depending on the urgency of your situation, you may need to wait quite a long time, but you don’t need an appointment or referral.
Seeing a doctor
Finding a doctor
In the German healthcare system, you are free to choose your doctors. If you have public statutory health insurance (Gesetzliche Krankversicherung, GKV) then you can go to any doctor that accepts public insurance, regardless of which insurer (Krankenkasse) you use. If you have private health insurance (private Krankenversicherung, PKV), then you can visit any doctor and you may in some cases have access to special office hours.
Websites like Doctolib and Jameda offer a complete online portal including doctor profiles, contact information, patient ratings and reviews, and even online appointment booking for participating doctors. Most health insurance companies also have an online doctor search tool as well.
In general, it’s best to make an appointment before visiting any doctor or specialist. On your first visit, you’ll need to complete some paperwork, including a data privacy form and a medical history form. Some doctors or specialists may not be accepting any new patients for a period of time, so it’s always a good idea to call in advance.
Primary care physicians
In Germany, most medical care starts with the Hausarzt, the equivalent of a primary care physician, family doctor, or GP. They handle physicals, routine check-ups, many screenings, immunizations, and overall wellness. They also do the initial check of any illness or injury. They may write prescriptions (Rezepte) for you to fill at the pharmacy, and provide you with a sick note (Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung) for your employer if you need time off work.
If the Hausarzt is unable to provide you with all the care you need for an illness or injury, they will then refer you to a specialist or the appropriate hospital or clinic. Generally a referral (Ueberweisung) is provided on a special paper that you will need to hand in to the specialist when you see them.
Once you use your referral at a specialist office, for example a dermatologist (Hautarzt), orthopedist (Orthopäde), or ENT (HNO), you may schedule follow-up appointments with them directly. Second opinions from another specialist are always possible as well, generally without needing another referral.
While most specialists in Germany require a referral from a Hausarzt, there are a few exceptions. Women can always visit a gynecologist (Frauenarzt) and children may be taken to a pediatrician (Kinderarzt). You can also schedule appointments directly with a dentist (Zahnarzt) or eye doctor (Augenarzt). In addition, some private health insurance policies may offer an option that doesn’t require visiting a Hausarzt first.
If you’re worried about filling out forms and communicating with your doctor in English, try the Google Translate app (Apple or Android). In particular, there is a camera function that allows you to hold your phone over a form or sign and see a translation overlaid on it. You can also type something you’d like to say in English and have the app read the German out for you.
You may receive some paperwork with one or more diagnostic codes. You can look up their meanings using the ICD code search.