When you inevitably find yourself needing a doctor in Germany, where do you start?
Start with health insurance. Your provider will have a list of doctors by specialization for you in your area. If you do need a specialist though, and not only a generalist / Hausarzt, you will still need to see a general practitioner for the necessary überweisung.
If you do not have German health insurance or are privately insured with a company outside of Germany (for instance, long term stays, or short term contracts with a foreign company) then here is a network of doctors in Wiesbaden who work closely together. I wouldn’t say everyone of them speaks perfect English, but this network does seem to be aimed at the American population here so most will at least understand basic English.
What should I expect or not expect?
I’d say in general Americans are going to need to toughen up a bit. Dry and blunt language might be easy to get used to after a while out on the streets and at the bakery, but in an intimate setting like a doctor’s office it can be startling. The doctor is not going to coddle you, they are going to listen to your symptoms and it is possible you might feel dismissed if, at the end of the appointment, you are not prescribed any medicine or therapies, or you are given homeopathic remedy recommendations instead. In fact, the bedside manner will feel kurt and unfriendly, and I personally felt like an inconvenience to my doctors in the beginning. This is, once again, me awkwardly fitting myself into a new culture and really it’s not unfriendly, on purpose, it’s just efficient.
Medical staff do not seem to have the same language proficiency as the doctors, so making an appointment might be difficult. If you struggle over the phone, it’s always possible to visit in person for an appointment however, always a however, doctor’s offices have truly random opening hours. Expect at least two days of the week to only be open in the morning or afternoon, with the remaining having both morning and afternoon appointments, but with large two or three hours breaks in the middle.
Despite the oddness of the hours, I have never had an issue getting an appointment with general practitioners within two weeks of calling (less, if I was truly sick sounding on the phone they would tell me to come in that day or the next). Sometimes practices will also have walk-in hours; if you choose one which does, get there 15 minutes before the practice is advertised as open because often people will already be in the waiting room. Remember, punctuality is key in Germany.
You will pay for your appointment before you are seen, if you are privately insured, or they will send you a bill later. Completely depends on the practice. The costs per visit are regulated with special multiplying factors available for the doctor to use if the visit required anything above and beyond an ordinary checkup. Prices are located here, beginning on page 4.
If you have public health insurance, simply present your health card to the receptionist who will swipe it for you and that’s that, no money will change hands.
Finally, when you enter the waiting room and there are people there, regardless if they are reading or you are on the phone, you are expected to say “Guten Tag” and everyone will respond accordingly. If you don’t do this, you will be stared at as you sit down. Choose whether or not you like the staring, and respond accordingly.
I’ve been given a prescription, now what?
You should head to the nearest Apotheke.
In general, stores like dm or Rossmann (Drogerie) are more like CVS or Walgreens without the ability to process prescriptions. I love the pharmacies here, they are so clean and modern looking OR, they are so clean and so old fashioned cool that you expect medicines to come in mysterious brown vials and there will be a kettle brewing in the corner. Actually, I have had my medicines come in brown vials with droppers and that was such a thrill.
A generic note: medicine seems to come in powdered form which you mix with juice, or in liquid form, which you also mix with juice. I haven’t had many pills administered.
Prescription medications will not cost more than 5 or 10 euro per script, by law. Apotheke are closed on Sundays but there is a rotating list of Apotheken-Notdienst (and doctors) available on holidays and Sundays.
Here is the list for Wiesbaden Mitte.
Here you can enter in your PLZ (zip code) to find the list for your area.
PS: if you need a refill, it’s called a “Wiederholungsrezept” and you need to get this from the doctor who originally prescribed it, as unlike in the US general practitioners here cannot continue treatment plans from other specialists (generally).
When you’re Googling for your doctor, you might see two terms:
They are the same doctor (General Practitioner / Hausarzt) but the first term is an older classification or degree type which is not awarded anymore.
Ibuprofen is not easily available. It is also quite expensive. This, and some other common over the counter drugs in America, is only available in an Apotheke. Drogerie carry cough syrups, vitamins, stomach medicine (homeopathic), other supplements and first aid materials. You can also find baby products here.
Other drugs and medicines might also be difficult to find here, even if they are produced by Bayer or other large German manufacturers. It works in reverse too. In Germany you can buy pain relieving creams or gels with aspirin in them and topically apply directly to the source of pain, but you can’t get these in America.
For more information on bringing medicines to Germany, see this.