Doctor, Hospital, Pharmacy - Who does what in the German health system?

Doctors in private practices

In general, doctors working in individual or group practices make the diagnosis and then carry out the treatment of an illness. These are called ‘niedergelassene Ärztinnen und Ärzte’ (doctors in private
practices). These doctors also issue prescriptions for medicines and can refer their patients for admission to a hospital for further treatment.

Doctors in private practices bill, for example, the social services department (Sozialamt) or a statutory health insurance provider (Krankenkasse) for their services. Patients can also pay for their treatment
at a doctor’s practice themselves. Please note that you must then bear these costs yourself. The money cannot be reimbursed to you afterwards.

Important: Most doctors offer consultations by appointment. You should therefore make an appointment, preferably by telephone. Make sure you keep to the agreed date and time! Patients without an appointment can usually expect waiting times.

Doctors must keep medical confidentiality. They are not permitted to disclose the information they are entrusted with to third parties. Certain infectious diseases, e.g. tuberculosis, must be notified to the public health authority. This is the only way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This notification does not affect the processing of an asylum claim.

Important: Many doctors speak English or another second language. Please enquire about this. If you speak German less well, it is advisable that you take a person you trust and who speaks the language to the doctor with you.


You will be treated in a hospital only if treatment at a doctor’s practice is not sufficient. A stay in hospital (Krankenhaus) must be approved in advance. Only go to a hospital without prior consultation if it is an emergency!


The following are examples of medical emergencies (medizinische Notfälle):

  • acute shortness of breath
  • acute pain in the chest
  • acute pain in the abdomen
  • acute dizziness
  • accidents and injuries
  • complications during pregnancy
  • acute mental distress
  • acute danger of suicide
  • drug-related emergency
  • allergic shock
  • loss of consciousness or coma.

In these cases you should seek immediate help by calling an ambulance or going to an emergency response centre or a doctor.

Important: Please contact the staff of your reception centre for responsible persons and medical staff in case of emergency!


In Germany, many medicines may only be dispensed to patients by pharmacies (Apotheke). You can obtain certain medicines (known as ‘prescription only’ medicines) from a pharmacist only if you present a doctor’s prescription. There are also many medicines that can be bought freely and for which no prescription is needed. The costs of these will not be reimbursed by the relevant government agency.

The pharmacist will inform you about how to take the medicine.

At least one pharmacy near you will be on duty at all times of the day and night.

This is what prescriptions may look like:

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Last change: 23. February 2016
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