Healthcare in Germany: the time-saving tech for expats

Think of Germany and most people think of an uber-efficient nation. But expats living in Europe‘s economic powerhouse are sometimes surprised by the variations in healthcare provision.

Healthcare in Germany: the time-saving tech for expats
Photo: Getty

Now, ottonova private health insurance is capturing the technological zeitgeist with its innovative digital solutions.

Patients wait an average of four days to see a primary care doctor in Germany, according to a 2018 study. Most practices are traditionally closed on Wednesday afternoons and at weekends. With 85 percent of people relying on public health insurance, these factors have led to overcrowded hospital emergency departments.

Germany is reforming its healthcare system to tackle these problems. But the changes, along with a high proportion of people aged over 65, are contributing to rising public healthcare costs. Here are six ways choosing ottonova private health insurance for expats earning €62,550+ a year could save you time – and worry.

Health insurance made easy: find out how ottonova could save you time and worry

1. Concierge support in English

You are feeling a little “kaputt” and know you should see a doctor. But the thought of struggling to get through on the phone followed by 30 minutes in a waiting room – the average wait with public insurance in Germany – is making you delay. Sound familiar? 

Smart, digital technology now dominates our lives. But when it comes to health, even millennials seem stuck on analogue; only 4 percent plan doctor’s appointments online, according to a Forsa Institute study for ottonova. Yet 71 percent say they would use a fully digital health insurance service.

Ottonova offers exactly that, starting with its app and dedicated concierge team. Just pick up your handy (mobile phone), open the app and instantly chat with a named team member for anything about your health and insurance.

Whether you have an urgent need or want a preventive checkup, your concierge can find the right doctor and quickly arrange an appointment. Digitalization speeds things up – but the human touch remains crucial to making customers‘ lives easier.

2. Doctor video consultations – within minutes 

You have a tight schedule you can‘t change – or suddenly feel so poorly that you want to stay in bed. Neither possibility poses a problem with ottonova private health insurance, which offers video consultations with English-speaking doctors. The waiting time is often under a minute from making a request to the concierge and the service is available 365 days a year.

Getting an instant diagnosis and treatment plan via video can help you manage your work, family and social life. Plus, you can get a sick note – which German employers typically require within one to three days – the same day. Now that’s what we call uber-efficient!

Tired of waiting to see a doctor? Find out more about ottonova's time-saving video consultations

Photo: Getty 

3. One app – and no paperwork

As an expat, you’re probably familiar with how frustrating bureaucracy can be. With ottonova, there is no need to worry about misplacing an important document or missing an appointment. You can go paperless by signing up online and using the app, where documents and events appear in a simple overview. Pharmacy and doctor’s visits, prescriptions, concierge chats and incapacity certificates can all be called up whenever needed. 

You can also scan and upload invoices for fast processing. Want to check exactly what your tariff covers? Or send a certificate of contributions to the tax office to support your tax deductions? You’ll find what you need in the app. 

4. English-speaking doctors and staff

Even if you are studying hard to impress with your German, some situations require zero room for misunderstanding. With ottonova private health insurance, you can have all your health-related questions answered in English.

The English-speaking concierge team are available via the app or by phone. Most importantly, they can arrange appointments with English-speaking doctors, either in person or via video call. You can then discuss your symptoms and treatment without feeling you are sitting a German oral exam.

5. Rapid reimbursement 

Consumers have a growing choice of instant ways to pay businesses. But this emphasis on speed is sometimes mysteriously lacking when funds must travel in the opposite direction. Not with ottonova, which can again save you valuable time. Simply upload your invoice via the app and you can expect to receive your money before you even have to pay your bill. Many customers receive the money within hours, while the vast majority of verified invoices are reimbursed within two working days. 

6. Faster access to specialists

Getting an appointment with a specialist often requires a referral (or Überweisung) from a general practitioner. One study found patients with public health insurance waited nearly four times as long as the privately insured – and 17 times as long in the worst instance. It also found the gap was widening.

But when you are insured with ottonova, you can ask the concierge team to arrange an appointment with a nearby specialist without a referral – and you'll often get one within a few days. Your concierge can also help you quickly get a second opinion; for example, prior to undergoing surgery.

As every doctor knows, prevention is better than cure. In the app, you will also find ottonova’s top tips for staying healthy. After all, there is one thing even more precious than your time: your health.

Get a free, non-binding consultation with ottonova to help you take an informed decision about your future healthcare coverage in Germany – find out how to get your personal consultation now

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by ottonova.

For members


Acupuncture to rolfing: What your Swiss health insurance gets you (if you pay more)

If you pay for supplementary health insurance in Switzerland you can benefit from access to complementary therapies. We look at what's available and how the system works.

Acupuncture to rolfing: What your Swiss health insurance gets you (if you pay more)

Like numerous countries in Europe, health insurance in Switzerland is a compulsory coverage that all people must have.

Most Swiss insurance providers offer several options for their customers, which are separated into two categories: basic and supplementary.

Basic health insurance (KVG / LaMal) must be purchased, because it is compulsory. Supplementary insurance comes with extra benefits for healthcare but also of course an extra fee.

The franchise (or deductible) will need to be met, but thereafter, even basic insurance has you covered. It pays for medical care, prescriptions, and specialist care like eye doctors, sometimes even without  referrals from your primary care physician. Supplementary health coverage, however, gives you access to complementary therapies that can differ substantially from what basic coverage allows. 

CLICK HERE for more on health insurance in Switzerland

You have to fill out a form the insurance carrier provides and sometimes might have to undergo a health check and discuss preexisting conditions in order to see how much insurance coverage can be offered — if any at all. 

Unlike the KVG / LaMal, which must be provided to all residents regardless of their health status, insurers can deny supplementary coverage if they deem you too much of a risk.

This can happen if you have chronic illnesses or pre-existing health problems, in which case you could be either turned down or offered a policy with wavers for your specific conditions.

Each insurance company decides what coverage they will offer and what percentage they pay, depending on both your overall health at the time of enrolment, and which plan you choose. You’ll be able to read what’s included in your plan in the paperwork you receive from your health insurance and, as always, the fine print is important to read. 

People who only have basic KVG / LaMal insurance still have thorough coverage for many things, from standard doctor visits to in-patient care and hospital stays.

READ ALSO: What is not covered by compulsory basic health insurance in Switzerland?

What complementary treatments are available?

In Switzerland, homeopathy is included in all health insurance plans, as healthcare isn’t merely approached with classical treatments; instead, a holistic approach is applied to healthcare throughout the country. The complementary therapies available through the supplementary insurance give individuals the opportunity to play an important part in their own wellness. 

Having a supplementary insurance not only increases the financial coverage you’ll have for some of your standard medical needs, but it also brings expanded access to numerous forms of wellness therapies. The Swiss are very focused on health and wellness and it is clear through the various types of insurance available, that a primary focus is getting the population healthy and keeping it that way. This additional insurance creates a way for people to access treatments and care for their well-being which, in turn, creates a healthier population. 

Complementary therapies can include various styles of massage including, classic, manual lymph drainage, therapeutic, connective tissue, acupressure, and medical massage, among others.

There are additional treatments and therapies such as foot reflexology, osteopathy, and Rolfing (massage/treatment of connective tissues) that are included in the coverage, plus there is also access to traditional Chinese medicine including cupping (suction cups applied to your body), acupuncture, and herbal medicine. Some practitioners also offer consultations in naturopathic health, including detoxification (guided cleansing of your digestion and body), nutrition, and hydrotherapy (using the element of water as therapy).

READ ALSO: How people in Switzerland can save money on healthcare

Your insurance provider will be able to better detail what is covered for you.

Another thing to take into consideration is that some insurance plans will even reimburse a portion of the costs of other health-related things, such as a part of the annual cost of a gym membership. Some plans will refund about 800 Francs per year for a gym membership that costs about 1,400 Francs. Granted, you will pay more each month for some of these extra options, but having access to them– and utilising them– can make the pricier monthly cost worth it. 

How do you go about getting complementary therapy?

Once you’ve signed up for supplementary insurance, you’re able to view a list of complementary therapies on the website of your insurance provider. Getting connected with a masseuse, osteopath, or other care provider is as simple as calling them up and scheduling an appointment. Once you have the supplementary insurance, there is no need to go to your primary physician and get a referral. 

In Switzerland, the reimbursement process for these therapies is also a little different. While some practitioners will still have you pay direct and out of pocket for the treatment (with a reimbursement coming later, after you’ve submitted the receipt to your insurance company), others will send you a bill in the mail. This creates a unique way that you can receive the receipt from the treatment, file it with the insurance, and often times have the reimbursement from the insurance deposited directly into your bank account before you even pay for the initial treatment. This makes it so that people who also don’t have a lot of access to cash can still receive quality care.

READ ALSO: Which Swiss cantons see the biggest hikes in health insurance premiums?

Be aware though you can’t just go for as much cupping, acupuncture or “rolfing” as you’d like because most insurers will put a limit on how much treatment you can get in a certain period. Some insurers might not cover the full cost meaning the patient might have to pay 10 to 20 percent of the fee.

This focus on providing access to things that augment an individual’s overall wellness makes Swiss healthcare among some of the best in the world. If you can see beyond the price tag (and let’s admit, it is expensive: sometimes 400-500 Francs or more each month), there are myriad ways to source treatments and therapies that will benefit your overall health and well-being, making for a healthier and ultimately happier person. 

When you first move to Switzerland, you can either select an insurance on your own, or sit down with an insurance consultant who will not only go over what each insurance offers, but can help you find the best coverage for you, your family, and your situation. When you need to make a change with your health insurance, you can get in touch with the consultant and they will procure the papers needed to make the changes. Although there is a cost associated with this sort of service, it can make selecting and signing up for health insurance in Switzerland an easy and smooth process. 

To find out more and compare rates for health insurance in Switzerland, information can be found here: