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Healthcare in Germany: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist doctor

A doctor in Germany holds a stethoscope.
A doctor in Germany holds a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Büttner
Patients in Germany often have to wait months for an appointment with a specialist. But if it's more urgent, it's possible to secure an appointment faster. Here's what you should know.

People in Germany are entitled to see a specialist doctor (Facharzt) quickly if they need to – but for many it’s unclear how to make this happen. 

If you are covered by public health insurance, you usually have to visit a GP to be referred onto a specialist doctor. There are exceptions in some cases, such as for gynaecologists and ophthalmologists where you can make an appointment without a referral. If you have private insurance you can book appointments with specialists more easily.

However, under law, statutory healthcare patients in Germany should be able to get an appointment with a specialist health care expert within four weeks when it’s more pressing. 

German media site Focus Online says few patients are aware of this. 

To secure an appointment with a specialist quickly, patients with statutory health insurance should go to their GP and get a referral.

There is one other condition: the referral from your doctor must contain a 12-digit code, a so-called urgency code (Dringlichkeitscode). To get that, you can let your doctor know that you need to see a specialist quickly, and they can add the number onto your referral. 

Patients can then call the medical on-call hotline 116 117.

The hotline staff will ask for this code when they call. The advisor has to offer an appointment within the next four weeks. Patients cannot specify a preferred doctor, but they should be given access to a qualified doctor near their home.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

If you cannot be offered an appointment within the specified time period, you will be offered an outpatient treatment appointment at a hospital, says the German Consumer Advice Centre

When else can you use the on-call number?

It’s also worth making use of the medical on-call number 116 117 for other health matters.

For instance if you are looking for a GP – or even a specialist doctor without an urgent need – the hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can help out. 

The staff there can arrange appointments with a doctor near you. Again, the hotline can’t give you preferred appointments with specific doctors, but it will display free appointments with doctors in your area.

You can also visit the website to look for appointments online. The service also has an app that you can download to your smartphone for easy access.

People in Germany are also entitled to contact their health insurance provider for help in finding a doctor or specialist. 

As the Consumer Advice Centre says, people in Germany can call 116 117 (which is also free of charge for mobile phones) for illnesses that are not life-threatening outside of consultation including at night, on weekends and public holidays. 

The service is organised by the Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigungen).

Staff can refer you to special on-call practices in case of non-emergency illness. People with hearing and speech impairments can contact the service online, use the app or contact the service using a fax form.

The medical on-call service provides access to treatment for both statutory and private patients. The costs of treatment are covered by the statutory and private health insurance organisations (depending on the contract and deductibles).

One important thing to note is that 116 117 is the medical non-emergency service and central nationwide number for arranging doctor’s appointments. In case of a medical emergency and life-threatening situations, dial 112 in Germany instead.


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