On Friday morning, the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament) will be putting a law into place which stipulates that medical practitioners must in future offer at least 25 instead of 20 hours of appointments a week dedicated to patients with statutory health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung).
The law comes amid complaints from many public health insurance patients that they are forced to wait weeks for an appointment, or don't receive appointments at “patient friendly” hours, such as at the weekend.
Ophthalmologists, gynaecologists and ear, nose and throat doctors must furthermore offer five hours a week for drop-in open consulting hours.
As an incentive, doctors will receive additional money to arrange urgent appointments with specialists. They’ll also be paid bonuses for welcoming new patients into the practice, and for offering drop-in consultation hours.
If they work in the countryside, doctors will be guaranteed additional payments.
The law will also develop the telephone appointment service, which operates differently around Germany, so that it is easier and faster for patients to book an appointment.
The plans are slated to cost the statutory health insurance funds billions worth of additional expenditures.
Waiting times: A hot topic
Weeks of waiting time for publicly insured people in Germany remain a hot topic in Germany, also because private patients (private Krankenversicherung) often get appointments faster.
Health insurance is mandatory in Germany, with 85 percent of people on public health insurance.
Germany’s association of statutory health insurance (GKV) has previously urged doctors to offer more appointment hours at “patient friendly” times.
Currently the majority of practices are closed in the afternoon and in the evening on Wednesday and Friday, as well as at the weekends.
“Sicknesses do not depend on the favoured opening times of the established physicians,” Johann Magnus von Stackelberg, vice president of the GKV board, told DPA in December.
He added that “more and more people” are going to the emergency rooms of hospitals because they are unable to secure a doctor’s appointment.