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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

An employee of a doctor's office notes something on a certificate of incapacity for work.
An employee of a doctor's office notes something on a certificate of incapacity for work. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

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

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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For members

GERMAN LANGUAGE

Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Germany

It’s that time of year again when many of us will be coughing and blowing our noses. If you're feeling a bit under the weather, here are the German words you'll need and some tips on what to do.

Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Germany

Corona – In German, Covid is most commonly called Corona. Self-isolation and quarantine (Quarantänepflicht) rules currently vary from state to state, but if you test positive for Covid, you’ll generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10. 

READ ALSO: Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

Eine Erkältung – this is the German term for a common cold. You can tell people “I have a cold” by saying either saying: ich habe eine Erkältung or ich bin erkältet.

A cold usually involves eine laufende Nase – a runny nose – so make sure you have a good supply of Taschentücher (pocket tissues) at home.

If you have a verstopfte Nase (blocked nose) you can buy a simple nasal spray (Nasenspray) from your local drugstore. 

But in Germany, because only pharmacies are able to sell medicines, you will need to pay a visit to die Apotheke if you want to get anything stronger.

READ ALSO: Why are medicines in Germany only available in pharmacies?

At the pharmacy, the pharmacist will usually need you to describe your symptoms, by asking you: Welche Symptome haben Sie?

A woman with a cold visits a pharmacy.

A woman with a cold visits a pharmacy. Photo: pa/obs/BPI | Shutterstock / Nestor Rizhniak

If it’s a cold you’re suffering from, you may have Halsschmerzen or Halsweh (sore throat), Kopfschmerzen (headache) or Husten (cough).

For a sore throat, you might be given Halstabletten or Halsbonbon (throat lozenges).

If you’re buying cough medicine you will probably be asked if you have a dry, chesty cough – Reizhusten – or if it is a produktiver Husten (wet, productive cough).

If you have one of these you may need some Hustensaft or Hustensirup (cough medicine). If you have a headache, you may also want to pick up a packet of Ibuprofen.

While selecting your Medikamente (medication), the pharmacist might ask you a couple of questions, such as:

Sind Sie mit diesen Medikamenten vertraut?

Are you familiar with this medication?

Haben Sie irgendwelche Unverträglichkeiten?

Do you have any intolerances?

They will also tell you about any Nebenwirkungen (side effects) the medicine could have.

Die Grippe – if you’ve struck down with a more serious illness, it’s likely to be die Grippe – the flu.

Flu symptoms usually include Fieber (fever), Schüttelfrost (chills), Gliederschmerzen (muscle aches), Schmerzen (aches) and Appetitlosigkeit (loss of appetite). While both Erkältungen and Grippe are very ansteckend (contagious), flu is usually more debilitating and might require a visit to the doctor.

However, as the pandemic is still with us, many German doctors’ surgeries (Arztpraxen) still ask patients to stay away or come in during special hours if they have cold or flu symptoms. 

But if you need a sick note (eine AU-Bescheinigung) and are suffering from mild respiratory diseases, you can get this over the phone, until at least November 30th, 2022.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

If you are really unwell, however, you will need to go to the doctor at some point to get ein Rezept – a prescription. More serious cold and flu-related illnesses (Krankheiten) often involve Entzündungen (inflammations), which are often schmerzhaft (painful) and cause Rötung (redness).

Common inflammations include Nebenhöhlenentzündung (sinusitis), Bronchitis (bronchitis) and Mandelentzündung (tonsillitis).

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