Tara ventures into the German doctor’s office

In January, I went to a German doctor for the first time. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the appointment went very well. At the time, there were many things about it that I found different from doctors’ offices in the U.S. I wasn’t sure if it was this particular doctor or German doctors in general.

Entrance to one of my doctor’s offices.

I’ve gone to a few different offices now, so I can report my personal experiences. These may not be typical, but here is what I have found:

  • Many offices in Heidelberg are in old buildings that seem like they were houses at one time. They are beautiful, historic buildings with many small rooms.
  • Doctors’ offices are not open everyday from 9-5. Certain days, they close around noon or 1pm, and they most likely close for lunch on the other days. My ophthalmologist, for instance, is closed Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons and for lunch the other days.
  • Some doctors’ offices are in apartment buildings. I live above a dentist’s office, though I rarely see patients.
  • There is a separate waiting room apart from the reception room in each office I’ve been to. In some cases, the waiting rooms are on the other side of the building.
  • German patients are very polite. When you walk into the waiting room, everyone looks up and says, “Guten tag” (Good afternoon) to you. When someone comes back to retrieve a coat, s/he says, “Auf Wiedersehen” (Good bye) to the waiting patients.
  • I have to remember to bring my own reading materials with me because I can’t read German magazines yet.
  • I have to listen very closely for my name, because they call “Frau” and then my last name, which is an English name and is sometimes difficult for the staff to pronounce. Everyone says it differently. I look up every time I hear them call “Frau” to see if anyone else gets up. If not, I just guess that I was called and take the slot.
  • In each office, there has not been several examination rooms like I am used to with U.S. offices. Instead, there is only one room per doctor that has a large desk and an examination table in the corner. I have basically had my appointments in the doctor’s main office at their desk.
  • Some doctors only accept privately insured patients, but many accept both public and private insurances.
  • I have been lucky in finding English-speaking doctors; though, one doctor did ask me to slow down when speaking. I’ve found that if I bring everything typed up (e.g. current medications, drug allergies), it helps with the communication.
  • It seems that I have to ask many more questions than I did in the U.S. Sometimes, it’s simply because I don’t understand the system or I don’t know what drugs I can get over the counter and which I need prescriptions for. Other times, though, it seems cultural that the doctors are not as forthcoming with information than what I am used to.

Hallway in one of the offices.

Heidelberg is a diverse city with many English speakers, so I am lucky that I can find doctors who cater to my language. Even after a few months of German classes, though, I am nowhere near ready to have a medical conversation in German.

A couple of doctors have asked me if I want to try in German, to which I politely, yet firmly reply, “No way.”

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Learn more as I navigate through the German health care system:

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8 responses to “Tara ventures into the German doctor’s office

  1. You know everytime I read a post of yours, I notice more things which I take for granted or I assumed to be “normal” … that’s fun. LOL.

    But all you said is true. Though I don’t like the opening hours of most doctors, they can be very inconvenient.
    Haha, one thing that probably hasn’t got any other country is that you have to pay 10€ for going to the doctor, except you have private insurance. I like to call it “entrance fee” 😉

  2. I’m glad you like seeing the differences- I’m sure it will help you if you eventually move to the U.S. My Canadian friend here on public insurance was surprised by the “entrance fee.” In the U.S., though, my private insurance always had a co-pay which I had to pay when I entered. So, if I had to pay the entrance fee in Germany, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all and it’s $5 cheaper than what I was paying in the U.S.! 🙂

  3. If you can recommend any of your English speaking doctors in HD, could you maybe email me (via my blogger profile) with their names? Mine always seem awfully overbooked and the gyn in particular has very grumpy, overworked staff. I am just not ready to switch to speaking the doctors in German (though I’m happy to do it with staff, since those conversations are simpler).

    I agree with your assessment that doctors aren’t as forthcoming with information. They also seem a little offended if I ask a lot of questions to keep myself informed. I wonder if this is because we are trying to deal with them in English, which puts them at a small communication disadvantage.

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