Whether you need a medical treatment document from the social security office (“Sozialamt”) or whether you can go directly to a doctor with a health insurance card depends on your residency situation (see Medical care in Germany).
If you are ill, it’s best to go to a family doctor. If you need a specialist, a dermatologist or gynaecologist, for example, you will be given a referral note. But you can also go directly to a specialist.
Doctors and their staff must not tell anyone else what you say to them. This means that you can talk openly about everything related to your illness.
Normally your doctor will decide whether you need to go to the hospital (for an operation, for instance) and will give you a certificate of admission for the hospital. Then when you go to the hospital you will need your health insurance card, the certificate of admission and your residence documents or your passport.
Tip: In some hospitals there are members of staff who speak languages other than German – you can ask for them if you like.
In addition, hospitals are there to treat emergencies. You can also go to the emergency department of a hospital if you suddenly become seriously ill and no doctor’s office is open (for example in the evening or at the weekend). The emergency department will then have to help you even if you do not have health insurance.
If you are severely ill and cannot get to the doctor, someone should call the emergency services telephone number “112”. The emergency call center will then send an emergency doctor and an ambulance that will take you to the nearest hospital.
In Germany, you get medication from pharmacies. Pharmacies usually have a big red “A” over the door or in the window. For some medications you will need a prescription from a doctor. If you are covered by public health insurance, you will only have to pay a small amount yourself; the insurance company pays the rest.
Tip: At night and at the weekend, there is always one pharmacy in town that is on emergency duty – the address can usually be found on the door of your local pharmacy or online.