Going to the Doctor

At a glance

We all want to stay healthy, but what happens if you fall ill and need to see a doctor or pick up a prescription? You can find answers to frequently asked questions on these pages.

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We all want to stay healthy, but what happens if you fall ill and need to see a doctor or pick up a prescription? You can find answers to frequently asked questions below.

Please also check our page Health Insurance for general information about your options for health insurance.

A guide to the German health care system

Here you will find a brochure with detailed information about the German health care system.

What happens if I need to see a doctor?

Statutory health insurance

If you are covered by the statutory health insurance scheme, you may choose your own doctor, and visits to the doctor's office are free of charge. If you will be here for a longer stay, it is a good idea to look for a family doctor that you consult first - a general practitioner or internist for adults, or a pediatrician for children. He or she can then refer you to a specialist if necessary. Be sure to call ahead to make an appointment and confirm opening times.

You must present your health insurance card the first time you visit a doctor in any particular quarter (meaning the three-month periods January-March, April-June, July-September, October-December). The doctor will bill your health insurance provider directly, so you do not need to pay for your doctor visit yourself. Such free treatment includes prescription medication (although there may be a pharmacy charge for filling the prescription), regular check-ups, eye examinations once a year and dentist check-ups twice a year, as well as recommended vaccinations.

The exception: certain diagnostic procedures or treatments that are not considered necessary by the statutory health insurance providers must be paid by the patients. These are called "IGEL" tests and treatments, and you will usually pay for these in cash.

Private health insurance

If you have private health insurance, you will have to pay for doctor's visits and prescribed medication yourself and then apply to your health insurance provider for reimbursement. Coverage, deductibles and terms vary, so please check the FAQ pages of your provider for instructions. For certain conditions such as pregnancy, waiting times can apply, and pre-existing conditions such as diabetes are generally excluded from coverage. Please check your policy carefully - some private health insurance companies will not insure pregnancies that existed before insurance coverage started!

Please note: Even if your health insurance offers payment guarantees for plannable treatments such as non-emergency surgery, childbirth etc., a hospital or doctor's office might still reject your insurance company’s payment guarantee and ask you for advance payment, e.g. if your health insurance provider is not located in Germany. Please make sure to check on how things will be handled well in advance of the planned treatment.

How do I find a doctor?

The administrative district of Tübingen (Landkreis Tübingen) has published a Health Guidebook for International Citizens listing general practitioners and medical specialists, therapists, counselling centers and clinics where languages other than German are spoken. The 2017 edition can be downloaded as a PDF here. Please note that some of the information may no longer be accurate.

In order to find a doctor, you can use the http://www.arztsuche-bw.de site, where you can search for doctors in a certain region. By using the "Erweiterte Suche" (advanced search) you can search for English speaking doctors and for specialists ("Fachgebiet/Schwerpunkt").

What do I do in an emergency or after hours?

The most important number to know for accidents or emergencies is the rescue coordination center 112. They can dispatch an ambulance, send a fire team, etc.

If you need to see a doctor after-hours, but it is not a life-threatening situation, the hotline 116 117 can tell you where to go to see the on-call doctor. 

If you need medicine after-hours, you can find which pharmacies are on duty at the website Aponet.de (interactive map).

The poisoning information center (Giftnotruf) is free of charge and open 24 hours a day under the telephone number (0761) 19 240.

If a child is poisoned, call an ambulance at 112 or take them to the Tübingen Children's Hospital (phone (07071) 29-83781); if you can, please bring the substance along that your child has swallowed (plant parts, cleaning agents, etc.). Directions and map can be found on the website of the University Hospital Tübingen (download the brochure 'signposts for patients and visitors').

What happens if I'm sick and can't go to work?

Reporting illness

If you have an employment contract and are unable to go to work because of sickness, you must inform your employer on the first day. By the third day at the latest, you must present a sick note from your doctor that you are unable to work (the Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung). The form will state when you can presumably return to work. If you are sick longer, you must go to your doctor to get an extension. 

The electronic sick note (eAU) system is set to be fully digitized in 2023 for all people with statutory health insurance. In the future, employees will not need to provide paper sick notes to their employer. From January 2023, employers will only receive data on their employees' incapacity to work from health insurers electronically. Patients will, however, receive a paper copy of the eAU for their own records. Please ask your doctor if you have any questions.

If you do not have a work contract but instead finance your stay with personal funds or a scholarship, you have no legal obligations to report illness to an employer, but it is a matter of courtesy to let your host know if you cannot come. Unfortunately, this also means that you do not have the same protection as an employee.

Paid sick leave

Under the statutory health insurance scheme, your employer will continue to pay your salary for six weeks if you become ill and are unable to work. If you are ill for more than six weeks in a calendar year, you will then receive money from your health insurance provider.

Where and how can I get a prescription filled or buy aspirin?

In Germany, medication can be purchased only in a pharmacy (Apotheke). Drugstores (Drogerie or Drogeriemarkt) only carry toiletries and vitamins, but not aspirin, for example.

If you are covered by statutory insurance and your doctor writes a prescription, you can have the prescription filled in any pharmacy. If it is medically indicated, the cost of the medication will generally be covered by your health insurance. For most such prescriptions there is a small co-payment called a Zuzahlung, although there is no co-payment for children up to the age of 18 years or for pregnancy - or childbirth-related treatment. For other prescription medication which is considered non-essential (such as birth control) you might be given a private prescription and must pay all costs yourself.

Over-the-counter medication such as aspirin and cough syrups is not covered by your insurance, and you must purchase these items yourself.

If you have private insurance and your doctor has prescribed medication, you must pay yourself, but you can turn in the original of the prescription along with the doctor's invoice and diagnosis for reimbursement. Check the FAQs of your health insurance provider for instructions.

Staying healthy - preventative medical check-ups for adults

Your statutory health insurance covers preventative check-ups free of charge. These include:

  • General check-ups: once every three years for adults 35 years and older
  • Cancer screening: once a year for women 20 years and older and for men 45 years and older
  • Pregnancy and maternity: Regular check-ups are recommended from the beginning of your pregnancy on and are recorded in a maternity record book.
What about my kids? Preventative check-ups

If you have children accompanying you, the statutory health insurance scheme offers a series of mandatory, regular checkups free of charge to make sure that your child is healthy and developing well. You will be given a check-up booklet ("U-Heft") at your first visit to the pediatrician, and each time your child takes part in one of the "U" exams, it will be registered in the booklet. The ages and intervals for these examinations are listed in the "U-Heft". When you register your child for daycare or school, you must present this booklet.

How often should I visit the dentist?

If you are covered by statutory health insurance, it is to your advantage as an adult to see the dentist at least once a year. Should you need dental work such as crowns or bridges later, you will pay a reduced deductible if you can show a so-called bonus booklet with stamps proving that you have had annual dental check-ups.

Children should also see the dentist for their first early detection examination between 30 and 42 months of age and again between 49 and 72 months. Between their 6th and 18th birthdays, children are entitled to preventative treatment every six months.

Can I drink the water?

In Germany, the quality and purity of tap water is very good, and it's the cheapest source for a healthy drink!

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