Getting to know the German health care system

This was something I did not plan on experiencing, but oh well, accidents happen. And if they do, it is good to know how the health care system works, so that you won’t postpone the visit to the doctor (in a very Finnish manner) for almost a week in the hope that it will go away by itself over time.

Basically, in Germany, general practitioners act as gate keepers. Most of the time, to get to see a specialist, one has to see the GP first. A big part of my initial confusion came from that in Germany, GPs work in small private clinics scattered all over the city, as opposed to the Finnish health care centres. I was told to walk in any of those clinics to get treated.

As I was not comfortable in taking the risk of facing a doctor that does not speak English at all, the choice set was narrowed down. A list of English speaking doctors  was helpful in mapping out which clinics would be foreigner friendly. The following step was fixing an appointment. Shying away from having to explain myself over the phone, I opted for queuing on first come, first serve consulting hours.

Which takes us to the next remark: the supply of health care professionals seems to be inadequate with respect to the demand. I waited for nearly two hours to see the GP, and I understood that this is quite common. If you are short on time, be sure to book the appointment beforehand. This might not be that straightforward either – I got an appointment to a specialist a week from the date of inquiry. Also, the third place I was referred to, took a day to return my call (also common, I heard). Of course, part of this struggle could be explained by that I selected a popular clinic and followed their recommendations to consequently popular specialists.

The personnel in all three places I visited had at least rudimentary English skills. Because I seemed to know German, they, apart from the doctors, preferred to speak German to me unless it was evident that I had no clue what I was supposed to do. If you are a complete beginner, you might be more comfortable having a German-speaker with you on your health care journey.

A final remark concerning the German health care system is that as a foreigner, European Health Insurance Card (or a German health insurance for non-Europeans) does the trick. This was always the first thing asked at the reception. Insurance details seem to be all they need, because payment is not discussed or required at any point during the appointment. If you are unsure about the finances, just ask.

In emergencies, dial the familiar number 112.