Berlin Healthcare / The German Healthcare System

Berlin healthcare / English speaking doctors

Berlin healthcare - english speaking doctors - inside view of a Berlin hospital - Photo:T.Bortels

First thing to know about the Berlin or actually the German health care system is probably, that there are two types of health insurance available: the public “Statutory Health Insurance” or “State Health Insurance Providers” (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung GKV) and the “Private Health Insurance” (Private Krankenversicherung PKV).

The main difference? It’s not easy to say. Basically I grew up believing in the Public Health Care System. In this case ‘public’ is not really as ‘public’ as it is in other countries like in Scandinavia or in the UK. The so called public health insurance companies are actually private sector companies that may even offer both types of insurance.

I suppose the main difference is probably that the “Statutory Health Insurance” used to be predominantly available for employees and workers – the “Private Health Insurance” instead was meant for entrepreneurs and businessmen.

Looking closer at the two types of health insurance there are of course many differences to spot: first of all, while a Private Health Insurance may be cheaper when you’re male, young and single it may turn out to become way more expensive when you grow older and have a family.

Second: Private Health Insurances may offer a greater variety of services. This can of course be a reason to choose a private over a public contract, but a.f.a.i.k. it is quite difficult to switch back, once you are part of the ‘private system’. And the services a private contract would pay for are basically also available for public insurance contract patients – but you might have to pay an extra fee. So anyways – my recommendation would be that you first try to become part of the public health care – and then try to stay part of the public system unless you really find a good reason to change that.

One side-effect of this ‘dual health care system‘ is that there are some regions in Germany that are not as well supplied with medical services as other regions. Or to put it plain and simple: the more money, the more doctors. The weekly news paper DIE ZEIT recently published a research on this correlation and the numbers – or actually the maps they show are alarming. So maybe you don’t need to have a ‘private health insurance’ contract – but it could be useful if your neighbours have. Here’s the article in German with maps that speak for themselves.

“Do i actually need a heath insurance?”

Basically the answer is ‘yes’. Whether you are visiting just for a couple of days or are actually living in Berlin (or Germany) you will need a health insurance – at least when you are consulting a doctor. Actually since 2007 everybody living in Germany permanently has to have a health insurance contract. And the reason for this is quite obvious. First of all: health care is expensive. On the on other hand doctors, clinics and hospitals don’t take cash – and also do not accept  credit cards. You can not pay for health related services, even if you wanted to. So the whole health care system is dependent on health insurances actually paying for the treatment, the service, the consultation.

Coming from a EU-country things should be rather easy: since 2011 citizens of the European Union can apply for a health insurance in Germany. Travelers of course don’t need to apply – you should first talk to somebody of your insurance about a travel insurance and what you need to take with you.

Coming from non-EU-countries things can be a bit more tricky. If you happen to have a job in Germany, your employer would usually support you both financially and logistically. If you are self-employed or freelancing you should talk to one of the many health insurance companies about their conditions.

Health care for artists, musicians, designers: Künstlersozialkasse KSK

While for employees and workers the employer pays about half of the monthly health insurance fee, artists, musicians and designers often lack such an employer. So ‘creative workers’ tend to find themselves in the middle between being a ‘worker’ and being an ‘entrepreneurs’.

In Germany the so called Künstlersozialkasse (KSK) supports self-employed artists, writers, designers by playing the role of the employer, paying about half of the health- and social insurance fees. Artists who want to benefit from this institution need to apply through the KSK’s website: www.kuenstlersozialkasse.de.

See also: “Social insurance for artists (Künstlersozialkasse or KSK)
(on the website of Kulturwerk des bbk Berlin GmbH)

Finding an English speaking doctor in Berlin

Even though Berlin is an ‘international city’, finding an English speaking doctor in Berlin can be quite a task – especially if you prefer not to travel all across the city and you would want to visit somebody who truly understands what you are saying.

But since for decades Berlin was hosting both American and English troops, at least West-Berlin more or less still has a working ‘infrastructure’ for English native speakers. So i would actually suggest that if you are trying to find an English speaking doctor in Berlin, you might want to begin your search in West-Berlin.

To make things a bit easier: You may also want to check this PDF document “University Hospitals and Clinics, Local Hospitals and Clinics, Private  Physicians, and Eye Glasses and Contact Lenses Stores in Berlin” issued by the embassy of the United States of America: germany.usembassy.gov/germany/img/assets/9057/berlin_medical.pdf

Pharmacies “Apotheken”

In Germany a pharmacy would be called ‘Apotheke’. In France you will recognize a pharmacy by the green cross, often lit in neon  in Germany it’s the red old type ‘Fraktur’ lette A that is leading the way.

German pharmacists are somewhere between doctors and drug stores. There are some medicines that you can purchase as if the pharmacy was a shop. Then there are many other medicines that you will need a doctor’s prescription to get hold of.

As far as I know German medicine laws are generally more strict / more restrictive than the US American medicine laws. And the packs are smaller – but that seems to be a general phenomena. When for example purchasing a pack of Aspirin, you will probably get a pack of 10 or 20 doses – instead of the infamous bottles full of Aspirin pills you may get in any other pharmacy in the US.

Opening hours: generally Pharmacies’ opening hours are similar to opening hours of shops. Except some pharmacies are open during the night and on the weekend. As far as I know the pharamcy at the Main Train Station / Hauptbahnhof is open 24/7. Other pharmacies follow a plan which organizes the night service and the weekend service.

You can check which Pharmacy is on night service / weekend service with the following tool by choosing the district (‘Mitte’) and click on “Notdienste im ausgewählten Bezirk anzegeigen”. If you want to see a list of pharmacies in neighboring districts then click on “Notdienste auch in Nachbarbezirken anzeigen”.

The above tool is kindly provided by Apothekerkammer Berlin – see the tool on their website at  akberlin.de/notdienst.html

…to be continued…


Do you have and thoughts, suggestions, additional recommendations or comments? Please feel free to leave your comment below. Thank you!


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