Four ways digitalization is changing Germany

Germany is a world leader in technology but it still has some way to go on the journey towards digitalization. It can be an adjustment for expats relocating from more digitally-advanced countries.

Four ways digitalization is changing Germany
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However, the future’s bright and big plans are underway to bring Germany squarely into the digital age. The Local has partnered with ottonova, a private health insurer offering both digital and conventional healthcare services, to present four areas where digitalization has been slow and give you an idea of when it will catch up.


The first thing to contend with when moving to Germany is the country’s notorious registration process. Everyone living in Germany is required to register a new address within 14 days of moving, a bureaucratic delight known as the Anmeldung.

Now for the fun part: the Anmeldung is done in person at the Bürgeramt (citizens office). You’ll need to book an appointment – which is done online or by calling up – and you’ll need to book it in advance as spots can fill up weeks beforehand. If you’re not able to get an appointment on time, you’ll have to visit the Bürgeramt in person, pick up a number and wait. And then probably wait some more. 

Earning over €60,750 in Germany? Get private health insurance from ottonova

The good news is that in 2017 the chief of staff at the German chancellery set a goal of making the country’s 500 administrative services digital. It’s part of the government’s wider digital strategy that aims to improve the quality of life for everyone living in Germany and means that by the end of 2022, all of the services offered by authorities – including the Anmeldung – will be available online.


Figuring out an unfamiliar healthcare system is a struggle for expats all over the world, but it’s a struggle that can be lessened by digital healthcare. 

Digitalization has been slowly and steadily taking place in Germany and more healthcare apps are becoming available. Private health insurance provider ottonova has been a trailblazer in this department, offering digital solutions to make life easier for expats in Germany. 

For example, there are over 392,000 doctors working in Germany but only 55,000 who hail from international backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, this can make it trickier to find an English-speaking doctor. Once you have, you could be in for a long wait until your appointment – in some cases, this can take weeks. With ottonova, an English-speaking doctor is always just a couple of clicks away – using the app you can request a doctor’s appointment in person or via video call as well as around-the-clock advice from ottonova’s ‘concierge’ team, documents delivered through the app and reimbursement of your bills within hours. 

READ ALSO: Seven of the biggest healthcare culture shocks in Germany

It also makes it much simpler to see a specialist. In most cases, you need to see a general practitioner to get a referral to a doctor who’s more specialised, a process that can feel frustratingly long. When you have private health insurance with ottonova, you just need to let the concierge team know the issue you are experiencing and they will book you an appointment with a nearby specialist.

Public transportation

Photo: Mathes/Depositphotos

If you’ve ever tried to get from A to B in Germany on public transport, you’ll know it can feel like you need a PhD just to understand which ticket to buy.

Germany’s national railway, the Deutsche Bahn, operates throughout the country but there are also many regional operators. For example, Berlin’s S-Bahn (the city rapid railway), is a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn and part of the Transport Association Berlin-Brandenburg (VBB). Each city has its own system as well as individual rules when it comes to ticket validity and often these aren’t clearly communicated. For example, Deutsche Bahn can offer special deals – but they are only valid with a printed ticket. So it’s no surprise that many people get caught out and lumbered with a hefty fine. 

Find out more about ottonova’s private health insurance packages

The public transport system might be complicated but most transport organisations do offer apps. If you know which one to use and when, purchasing tickets and travelling in Germany can be a breeze. If you don’t, not so much. Could Germany follow the lead of nearby Sweden, which is thinking of introducing a single ticketing app? There are no plans yet but with the rate Germany is digitalizing, you’d do well to watch this space…

Mobile infrastructure

When you’re living and working abroad, communication is a priority. Whether it’s sending emails to colleagues, using Google Translate, or ringing family back home, your handy (mobile phone) becomes absolutely essential.

With that in mind, it’s not ideal that Germany’s mobile phone network coverage is officially one of the worst in Europe. Despite its reputation for efficiency and innovation, other EU countries often offer better overall mobile services. While in nearby Sweden travellers on the metro can text and surf as normal, in Germany you’ll be faced with many ‘dead spots’, i.e. areas where you get little to no reception at all. 

Public WiFi also isn’t as widespread as it is in other counties. Germans are still quite privacy sensitive and the cafes and public spaces that do have WiFi will ask you to register your details first. When you do finally find some WiFi, you may also often find that it doesn’t actually work.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. The government plans that by 2025 all of Germany will be served by 5G, the latest high-speed generation of cellular network technology. It has established mobile infrastructure as a priority and aims to become the leading market for 5G applications.

So hold on tight. Germany may be trailing ever so slightly behind in the digitalization race but it’s making serious efforts to move into first place. And when it comes to ottonova’s digital healthcare services, in many ways it already is.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by ottonova.


‘Worst coverage in Europe’:

Public transport in Germany:

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What you should know about Germany’s plans to roll out e-prescriptions

Germany is taking a big step towards a more digital-friendly health system, with plans to roll out e-prescriptions nationwide. Here's what you should know.

A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony.
A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

What’s happening?

From January 1st 2022, people in Germany will receive their prescriptions digitally (known in Germany as an ‘e-Rezept’) from healthcare providers.

Patients should be able to get their prescription from their doctor via a QR code sent to an app, which can then be transmitted to a pharmacy. The pharmacy can then let the patient know whether their medicine is in stock (or if they want to order it), and when it is ready for collection. 

This model is to be mandatory for people with statutory health insurance from the start of 2022, replacing the good old paper prescription.

However, the QR code can also be given to the patient by the doctor on a piece of paper if a patient does not have access to or doesn’t want to use a smartphone. 

READ ALSO: The changes around doctors notes in Germany you should know 

How exactly will it work?

In theory this is the plan – you’ll visit the doctor or have a video consultation. After the examination, the doctor will issue you with an electronic prescription for the medication that has been prescribed to you. 

A prescription code is automatically created for each ‘e-Rezept’, which you will need so you can get the medicine at the pharmacy. As we mentioned above, patients in Germany can either open this QR code in the free e-prescription app developed by Gematik and the Health Ministry, or receive it as a printout from the doctor. 

Next, you can take the prescription QR code (either in the app or as a printout) to your pharmacy of choice to get the medication needed.

One of the major differences and timesavers under the new system is that you can also select the pharmacy you want to get the prescription from digitally, order the medication (if needed) and you’ll be alerted when the prescription is ready. You can also arrange to have it delivered if needed. 

A doctor’s signature is not required, as e-prescriptions are digitally signed. 

The aim is that it will save on paperwork, time at the medical office and trips to the pharmacy. 

Some patients have already been receiving digital prescriptions. The ‘e-Rezept’ was tested out successfully in selected practices and pharmacies with a focus on the Berlin-Brandenburg region of Germany. The test phase started on July 1st this year.

Pharmacies and doctors’ offices nationwide have also been given the opportunity to test the new system from the start of December. 

“This will enable practice providers and pharmacy management systems to better prepare for the mandatory launch on January 2022 1st,” said, the official health portal site for German pharmacies

The new e-prescription app.
The new e-prescription app. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

READ ALSO: 10 rules to know if you get sick in Germany

There is some leeway though – if there are technical difficulties, paper prescriptions can still be issued in individual cases until the end of June next year.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians estimates that it could take until mid-2022 until all users are equipped with e-prescription applications nationwide.

The obligation does not apply to privately insured people from January next year. Private insurance companies can decide voluntarily to make the preparations for their customers to use the e-prescription.

What’s this about an app?

To be able to receive and redeem prescriptions electronically, people with statutory health insurance need the Gematik ‘das e-Rezept’ app. 

One issue is that the app appears to only be available at the moment in German app stores. We’ll try and find out if there are plans to change this and widen out the access, but it seems likely for that to happen. 

Germany’s Covid-Warn app, for example, was initially only open to German app stores but was gradually widened out to many others. 

As mentioned above though, those who don’t have access to an app will be able to use the paper with the code on it to access their prescriptions. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

Has it all gone smoothly?

As you might expect, there have been a few hiccups. 

Originally, the introduction nationwide was planned for October but was postponed due to many providers not having all the tech requirements set up. 

Now though, more than 90 percent of the practice management systems have been certified by the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians – a prerequisite to issue the e-prescriptions.

The e-prescription is part of Germany’s far-reaching plans to digitise and streamline the health care system.

The head of Gematik GmbH, Markus Leyck Dieken, recently spoke of a “new era” that is “finally starting for doctors and patients” in Germany. 

Useful vocabulary:

Prescription – (das) Rezept

Doctor’s office/practice – (die) Arztpraxis

To order – bestellen 

Pharmacy – (die) Apotheke

Video consultation – (die) Videosprechstunde