Health care system in Germany

Before coming to Germany most probably you took some interest in German health care system. You wanted to find out how it works, how it differs from the solutions you know in your own country and where to seek for help if you need it. Maybe you did some research, but luckily so far you were never in need of visiting a doctor, therefore you’re not sure how everything works. Here I will provide you with some insights about the health care system in Germany. Be prepared for some facts, tips and overall impressions from an international perspective.

Let’s have a closer look on some facts about German health care system

According to many rankings, German health care system belongs to the best ones in Europe. The insurance in Germany is obligatory – whether you live here, work (even temporarily) or study you have to be insured. There are two options available – compulsory (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) and a private insurance (Private Krankenversicherung). Only around 10% of German inhabitants are privately insured, as you need to meet some strict requirements to be eligible for the private solution (e.g. earning more than 52.200 Euro per year).

If you work in Germany, a given amount of money is automatically deducted from your salary to cover your compulsory insurance. If you study here, you need to buy insurance on your own – in Giessen you can for example go to Techniker Krankenkasse Giessen or to AOK. Students are eligible for a reduced fee, around 90 Euro per month. To pay this reduced amount you must submit a letter of acceptance for studies.

I am insured now, but how does the practice look from a perspective of an international?

I spoke with many international students here about their impressions on German health care system. Many of them didn’t know much about it as luckily during a few months of their stay, they were not in need of visiting a doctor. Opinions of those who already had some experience with the system in Germany were divided.

The biggest challenge is naturally the language barrier. If you speak German on a pretty good level, no need to worry. Worse if you speak only a bit, like most of the international students here. Then most of the time you will need help of your German speaking friends. Making appointment on the phone often will not work out when you speak only English. From my experience it’s a bit better when you are already at the doctor’s place – 50% of my visits I was able to handle alone as the physicians I dealt with spoke English. While some other appointments I was speaking English and the doctor was answering in German. This was rather a funny situation. Sometimes I have the feeling that physicians here speak very well English but they are just too shy to use it.

More challenges?

Another problematic thing may be long waiting time to make an appointment with a specialist. The awaiting period depends of course on the specialization and number of experts available in a given city. Usually you need to wait between one and two months to see a chosen doctor. It’s a bit worse around holiday periods –  Christmas, Easter and summer season. I’ve noticed that many doctors in Germany take a longer time off (e.g. two weeks) at the same time. However it is different when your case is an emergency or you are in a strong pain. Then, while making an appointment, you just need to highlight it and then a much faster date will be offered to you.

From my perspective, as back in Poland I was privately insured (which is becoming a case for more and more Polish people due to the fact that many employers offer this solution as a part of standard benefit package) I must admit I find the awaiting time quite frustrating. However I bet most of my Polish folks who use public health care system in Poland would find my frustration pretty odd. But like I mentioned before, private health care solutions in Germany are not as common as in my country.

The other difference I’ve noticed being here are the prices for prescribed meds. I was very positively surprised when I got a prescription for some antibiotics and I paid only 5 euro. As in Poland I was used to spending high amounts in pharmacies, 5 euro bill was quite shocking. Later on I found out that prescribed meds (that are considered by doctor to be a must in a healing process of the patient) have the same price – 5 euro. The remaining cost of a med is then covered by your insurance.

Tips and hints for internationals

After I provided you with some general insights on health care system in Germany, below you will find some advice that you may find useful when you need to see a doctor:

  1.  Remember, if your case is urgent, you are entitled to get help fast. You may go directly to an emergency in hospital, where specialists will take care of you.
  2.  If your case is not urgent, but you are in pain, tell it while making an appointment. Most probably you’ll be admitted faster.
  3.  Alternatively you may use an option of so called “Sprechstunden”. Many doctors open their doors e.g. for two hours in a week for patients who did not make an appointment. However, with this option, be prepared for a longer waiting in waiting room (when you made an appointment, usually you are admitted exactly on the time your visit was scheduled on).
  4.  Don’t be afraid of asking your German speaking friends to assist you while making an appointment! However if you want to make it on your own start with “Guten Tag, Sprechen Sie vielleicht English?”. In this case you are much more likely to succeed than if you directly start with English.
  5.  Search for English speaking doctors. If your German is not sufficient to smoothly communicate with physicians, try to find the ones who feel comfortable speaking English. How to do it? Ask your friends, search on Internet forums, speak to other internationals. There are many English speaking doctors in Germany, also in Giessen! You just need to find them 🙂

Good luck!



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