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Healthcare in Germany: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist doctor

Patients in Germany often have to wait months for an appointment with a specialist. But if it's more urgent, it's possible to secure an appointment faster. Here's what you should know.

A doctor in Germany holds a stethoscope.
A doctor in Germany holds a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Büttner

People in Germany are entitled to see a specialist doctor (Facharzt) quickly if they need to – but for many it’s unclear how to make this happen. 

If you are covered by public health insurance, you usually have to visit a GP to be referred onto a specialist doctor. There are exceptions in some cases, such as for gynaecologists and ophthalmologists where you can make an appointment without a referral. If you have private insurance you can book appointments with specialists more easily.

However, under law, statutory healthcare patients in Germany should be able to get an appointment with a specialist health care expert within four weeks when it’s more pressing. 

German media site Focus Online says few patients are aware of this. 

To secure an appointment with a specialist quickly, patients with statutory health insurance should go to their GP and get a referral.

There is one other condition: the referral from your doctor must contain a 12-digit code, a so-called urgency code (Dringlichkeitscode). To get that, you can let your doctor know that you need to see a specialist quickly, and they can add the number onto your referral. 

Patients can then call the medical on-call hotline 116 117.

The hotline staff will ask for this code when they call. The advisor has to offer an appointment within the next four weeks. Patients cannot specify a preferred doctor, but they should be given access to a qualified doctor near their home.

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

If you cannot be offered an appointment within the specified time period, you will be offered an outpatient treatment appointment at a hospital, says the German Consumer Advice Centre

When else can you use the on-call number?

It’s also worth making use of the medical on-call number 116 117 for other health matters.

For instance if you are looking for a GP – or even a specialist doctor without an urgent need – the hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can help out. 

The staff there can arrange appointments with a doctor near you. Again, the hotline can’t give you preferred appointments with specific doctors, but it will display free appointments with doctors in your area.

You can also visit the website to look for appointments online. The service also has an app that you can download to your smartphone for easy access.

People in Germany are also entitled to contact their health insurance provider for help in finding a doctor or specialist. 

As the Consumer Advice Centre says, people in Germany can call 116 117 (which is also free of charge for mobile phones) for illnesses that are not life-threatening outside of consultation including at night, on weekends and public holidays. 

The service is organised by the Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigungen).

Staff can refer you to special on-call practices in case of non-emergency illness. People with hearing and speech impairments can contact the service online, use the app or contact the service using a fax form.

The medical on-call service provides access to treatment for both statutory and private patients. The costs of treatment are covered by the statutory and private health insurance organisations (depending on the contract and deductibles).

One important thing to note is that 116 117 is the medical non-emergency service and central nationwide number for arranging doctor’s appointments. In case of a medical emergency and life-threatening situations, dial 112 in Germany instead.

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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.