Health For Members

How Germany could bring back telephone sick notes sooner than expected

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
How Germany could bring back telephone sick notes sooner than expected
A thermometer, medication and a doctor's sick note lie on a bedside table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

During the pandemic, people in Germany got used to phoning their doctors for a sick note. This system could be brought back sooner than planned as GPs complain of being overwhelmed in their practices.


What's going on?

It may seem simple enough, but it took a global health crisis on an unprecedented scale to force Germany to introduce sick-notes by phone for people with respiratory illnesses like cold or flu.

Previously, getting the slip of paper required to take more than a few days off work required appearing at your local GP's surgery in person. With the government keen to minimise social contact among the population at the height of Covid-19, it took the step of allowing people to phone their doctors for sick notes instead - but this system was phased out as infection numbers dropped.

Despite the return to the status quo, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has said he wants phone-in sick notes to become a permanent feature of the German healthcare system. Back in summer, the Bundestag waved through the plans and determined that guidelines should be drawn up in January with a view to reintroducing call-in sick notes next year.

With a swell in respiratory infections like Covid-19 and the flu virus, however, doctors are now clamouring for the rules to be changed at an earlier date. They say they're overwhelmed with patients and are in need of ways to make their processes more efficient.

Now it seems that phone-in sick notes could be possible this month, assuming the resolution is passed at the Federal Joint Committee's meeting which is being held on December 7th.

Monika Lelgemann, who chairs the committee responsible for the reform, previously said if it is decided at the meeting on Thursday, it could come into force immediately. 

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Why is it taking so long? 

According to Health Minister Lauterbach, changes like this are impossible to organise overnight. "We are working as fast as we can," he said in a recent interview with ARD. "The processes are simply slow in Germany."


Lelgemann listed the formalities involved. The government must carry out hearings with various parties, from health insurance companies to employers' organisations, in order to formulate this regulation in a legally secure manner, she explained. 

How does the system work at the moment?

There can be different rules if a specific employer enforces them. But generally, all employees in Germany who are absent from work for more than three days have to obtain proof of sickness from their GP and provide this to their employer on the fourth day at the latest. (Note: this doesn't mean you don't need to tell your boss straight away if you're unable to work. It's just that proof is required if you need to stay off work for longer.) 

Generally, you will need to make an appointment with your doctor online or by telephone or turn up during the walk-in sessions that are often held in the morning. 

A woman lies in bed

A woman lies in bed while taking time off from work due to sickness. Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

In the past, patients would get their proof of illness in the form of three yellow slips: one for the employee, one for the employer and one for your health insurer. 

At the start of the year, however, electronic sick notes came into use, meaning that the slips for your employer and health insurers are automatically saved on a digital server and can be accessed by both parties at any time. In most cases you will still get a yellow slip for your own records, but this is also due to change soon when electronic patient records become more widespread. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany’s new electronic sick note works

Are there any restrictions patients should know about?

Though the details of the new system haven't been fully fleshed out, there is one key rule to know about: in order to get a telephone sick note, you'll have to have visited the clinic at least once in the past and your details should be on their system. 

This also means that your GP's surgery will have to carry out checks to make sure you are who you say are, for example by asking for personal details like your date of birth or parts of your address. 


Unlike the pandemic, when only patients with mild respiratory illnesses could get phone-in sick notes, all illnesses with a "foreseeable non-severe course" will be covered in the future, according to Lelgemann.

However, it remains to be seen how much of a positive impact it will have in reducing the workload at doctors' surgeries - despite the high hopes of GPs. 


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