I visit the doctor often. Annual appointments, dental visits, eye exams, etc. I am the doctor finder and appointment scheduler for my household. So, when we moved to Germany, it was no different. I mean, a doctor visit by any other name would still smell like disinfectant. While this is true, there are some glaring differences between visiting the doctor in the US compared to Germany, and some of them are just weird.
You have to greet the waiting room. German doctor’s offices are practically identical in set-up to American ones. There’s a front desk, private exam rooms, and a waiting room for patients. These waiting areas are separate from the main practice and front desk area, typically will have a door, and will pretty much be a room with chairs lining every wall. When you enter, you have to say hallo to everyone. When you leave, you have to say tschüss. If you come back to retrieve your coat, you have to say tschüss again. If you come back to sit and wait for test results, another doctor, etc, the greeting ritual starts over.
Paperless Patient Care
You don’t need an appointment (necessarily). There’s a set group of appointment times set aside for scheduled appointments, for people who want to call ahead. If you are sick or injured or you must see the doctor, you can just show up. And wait. For hours. Literally hours. B.Y.O.B. (book, not beer! But… you could probably do that too.)
The benefit to scheduling an appointment in advance is to reduce your wait time. Although, that doesn’t often happen either. At my last Orthopaedic appointment, I waited over an hour (past my scheduled time) before finally seeing the doctor. When I told this to my German friends, they said “Oh wow, so fast! Not bad at all!” Typically, calling to schedule an appointment will get you in within 3-4 weeks, and you better write it down and set a reminder, because the doctor’s office will not send you any confirmation of your appointment.
No Patient Portals
There are no online medical records or patient portals to access records, results, etc. Germany is obsessed about what they call Datenschutz (online privacy/ personal data privacy). Everything is done by mail or in person. I was locked out of my online banking and I couldn’t just switch my password like you can in the US, I had to physically go to my bank, show that I was locked out, and then they unlocked my account. There are so many rules and regulations, it makes sense that there’s no online access to medical records. Yes, it’s inconvenient at times (mainly because it forces me to have to talk to someone), but after the hacks that have happened in the healthcare industry (looking at you, Anthem), I understand. If you want a copy of your recent doctor visit, you have to ask for it in person.
You’re in charge of your healthcare. There is more responsibility put on the patient to understand their health and to be able to effectively communicate what is going on to their doctors. Add the fact that the doctors don’t have any proper medical history on you and well, you better start a cliffnotes of your life to bring to every appointment. Getting test results, making follow-ups, knowing how to take your medicine, appointment reminders, etc. is all your responsibility. Yep, even medicines. The Apotheke will literally just give you the entire box of medicine with no dosage instructions, side effects, etc. Good luck.
You’re gonna be naked. Need an X-ray, testing, or therapy? You’re gonna be naked. There are no courtesy gowns, or leaving your clothes on out of modesty. Germans don’t care. And they’re gonna open the door on you like 5 times while you’re undressing and while you’re naked, so be prepared.
The differences aren’t huge, just silly weird things. The important thing is that none of these weird things impacts the quality of care in Germany. Pretty much, going to the doctor here is like seeing a doctor in the US, you just have to remember to go to your appointment.
Does German healthcare seem weird to you, or similar to your doctor’s office? Have you visited a doctor while abroad? What was it like?