In Germany, it is usually not hard to find medical help if you become ill. There is an extensive network of easily accessible places to go for treatment. Health insurers cover most treatment costs, and the vast majority of people have health insurance.
But it is still not that easy to navigate the German health care system. This was the impulse behind creating this information on health care in Germany: to provide a general overview of the system as a whole and also offer a practical guide. It is mainly aimed at people from other countries who are living and working in Germany – whether they are here for a short time or permanently. Being prepared in case you become ill and knowing where to turn help ensure you get quick treatment.
Insurance coverage is compulsory in Germany, which means that everyone must have health insurance. The aim is to ensure that no one runs into financial difficulties due to an illness. If you are insured, you typically pay none – or only a reasonable part – of the treatment costs and are also insured against lost earnings.
Employees who earn a gross salary below a specific threshold must join a statutory insurer. If you earn more, you can choose to have private insurance.
Health care is mostly financed through the premiums paid by insured employees and their employers. The premium is based solely on income, but everyone with statutory insurance is entitled to the same health care – regardless of how high their premium is.
In Germany you can decide for yourself which doctor, dentist or psychotherapist you want to visit. For their part, doctors are obligated to treat anyone who is insured.
The family doctor (Hausarzt) or pediatrician (Kinderarzt) is usually the first stop for people who are ill or have other health-related problems. The doctor can decide whether they can provide treatment on their own or whether a specialist should be consulted.
If that is the case, you can be referred directly to a specialist, such as a gynecologist or a dermatologist. It is also possible to go straight to a specialist or psychotherapist without seeing your family doctor first.
In an emergency such as an accident or a life-threatening event like a heart attack, emergency services can be reached by dialing 112.
In addition to doctors and dentists, there are a number of other health care professionals, including physiotherapists, speech therapists, nurses and midwives. You will usually need a doctor’s prescription for physiotherapy, speech therapy or home care.
Most medical and dental practices have what is known as a “Kassenzulassung” (statutory health insurance accreditation). This means that they can treat people who have statutory health insurance, and the treatment costs will be covered by the insurer. The only thing practices need is your insurance card, so they can check you are insured and then charge your insurer directly. The statutory insurers pay fixed amounts for some services such as dental prosthetics. Any additional costs must be paid out-of-pocket and depend on the type of dental treatment. Adults also usually need to make a copayment for outpatient physiotherapy or speech therapy.
Privately insured patients pay the treatment costs up front and are then reimbursed later by their insurer. The level of reimbursement will depend on the individual policy.
Most hospitals in Germany treat all patients who have health insurance, both statutory and private. Your family or specialist doctor will decide whether hospital treatment is needed – unless it is an emergency situation. Treatment that allows you to return home on the same day is referred to as “outpatient” care. “Inpatient” care refers to cases where you have to stay overnight in the hospital. If that is the case, people with statutory health insurance will have to pay a certain amount themselves to cover the cost of accommodation and meals.
In addition to inpatient treatment, hospitals also offer inpatient medical rehabilitation. Rehabilitation centers offer treatments lasting from a few days to several weeks that are designed to improve independence and physical performance while recovering from intensive therapy for a severe illness. There are also rehabilitation centers for people who have mental illnesses or addiction problems.
Medicine is available in pharmacies, where you can also seek advice and information on the different drugs. Pharmacies offer an emergency duty at night and on the weekend. If your pharmacy is closed, you will find a list at the entrance directing you to the nearest open pharmacy.
The cost of prescribed medicine is mostly covered by the insurer and only a small portion needs to be paid out-of-pocket. This copayment is capped at 10 euros per medicine and does not apply to prescriptions written for children and young people under the age of 18. If you are privately insured, you have to pay the full cost up front and your insurer will reimburse the cost afterwards.
Guidance and self-help
Germany offers a wide variety of different services for personalized advice and other support if you become ill: They include self-help groups, independent patient counselling, (psycho) social information centers and counseling services provided by the insurers and public health departments.
Seeking information and guidance and sharing experiences with others can often be very useful when choosing a therapy option. This can be quite difficult, and reliable information is critical for making the right choice.
German Federal Ministry of Health. Gesundheitssystem. October 2014.
German Federal Agency for Civic Education. Dossier on health care policy. Merkmale des deutschen Gesundheitswesens. October 2014.
Busse R., Blümel M., Ognyanova D. Das Deutsche Gesundheitssystem. Akteure, Daten, Analysen. Berlin: Medizinisch Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft; 2013.
European Representation of German Social Insurance. German Social Insurance. October 2014.
Klemperer D. Sozialmedizin – Public Health – Gesundheitswissenschaften. Bern: Verlag Hans Huber; 2014.
Obermann K, Müller P, Müller H-H et al. The German Health Care System. A concise overview. Hamburg: Der Ratgeber Verlag; 2013. Available online here.
German Federal Statistical Office. Eckdaten der Krankenhäuser 2013. October 2014.
IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping
people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health
Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.
Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.