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You are here: Home Education Languages Ask our German teacher: Going to... the doctor
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21/09/2011Ask our German teacher: Going to... the doctor

Ask our German teacher: Going to... the doctor Language is the last thing you want to worry about when you are ill and need to see a German doctor. Expatica's resident German teacher Renate Grasstat gives you all the German you need to get yourself treated.

Going to the doctor can be a challenge. As with everything else in Germany, you'll have to follow quite a lot of  rules. I know some people who almost became friends with their symptoms, no matter how severe, just to avoid a constantly nagging medical assistant asking questions they could not understand on the phone.

But once you get through to the doctor, things are quite often not half as difficult as they seemed at the front desk.

Let's start with some basics. First of all, there are many different kinds of physicians. A general practitioner (G.P.) is usually called Arzt für Allgemeinmedizin or Praktischer Arzt. People usually go there first and receive an "Überweisung" (referral) to a specialist (Facharzt) if necessary. But it is also possible to see only the specialist, without seeing a GP first - you simply phone or visit the specialist's office to make an appointment.

For most doctors you need an appointment (Termin). If you see "Termine nur nach Vereinbarung", announced on a sign or in the A-Z Listings, it means you have to call before you go there. If you don't have an appointment, you can also simply turn up during the Sprechstunden (consulting hours) and wait to see the doctor. But be warned--if you don't come early, you may not get to see the doctor at all.

After you've said that you need an appointment, you will probably be asked:
"Waren Sie schon einmal bei uns?” ("Have you been here before?")

The usual answer is: "Nein, das ist das erste Mal." (Or: "Ja, im Juli", or whenever...)

When you have made your appointment, you will probably be asked:

"Wie war der Name nochmal?" ("What was your name again?")

Here it is really helpful to use the spelling alphabet, which is very popular in German – especially if your name is not easy for German speakers.

Anton Berta   Cäsar   Dora   Emil   Friedrich  Gustav  Heinrich   Ida   Julius   Kaufmann (or Konrad)  Ludwig   Martha   Nordpol   Otto   Paula   Quelle   Richard   Samuel  (or Siegfried)   Theodor   Ulrich   Viktor   Wilhelm   Xanthippe  Ypsilon  Zeppelin

Try and learn the names used for the letters of your surname (or both names) by heart, it will sound as follows:

Theodor Anton Ypsilon Ludwig Otto Richard (Taylor)

Don't worry if you think this sounds silly (as it really does…) - everybody in Germany understands this alphabet and it is standard to use it when spelling.

Usually a reference to your insurance card will follow: "Bitte vergessen Sie Ihre Versichertenkarte nicht." If you don't have one, please tell them that you are "privat" or "privat versichert" - which is not that common in Germany and can even cause confusion as to how to pay the fee. In some cases you might even be asked to leave EUR 50 in cash as a kind of deposit.
When you are coming to see the doctor, the secretary or assistant (Arzthelferin) will ask you for your insurance card and for some details like your telephone number etc. And (s)he will most probably ask for the Praxisgebühr of EUR 10 - a fee you have to pay every quarter to the insurance companies just for seeing a doctor. Patients with private insurance do not have to pay the Praxisgebühr, however.

Here are some words and phrases that you may need during your consultation with the doctor:

Schmerzen (Pl.)    pain

…….tut weh (Plural: tun weh)  ........... hurts, aches
e.g. Mein Halz tut weh.   My throat hurts.

Erkältung   (die)   cold

Grippe  (die)    flu

Husten  (der)     cough

Fieber   (das)    high temperature

Durchfall  (der)    diarrhea

Verstopfung (die)    constipation

Erbrechen (das)    vomiting

Spritze  (die)    injection

Betäubung (die)    anaesthetic    

Bohren  (das)    drilling

Blut abnehmen, die Blutabnahme  taking of a blood sample

Kommen Sie bitte nüchtern!   Please don't eat (or even drink) anything before you come!

Untersuchung  (die)    examination

Behandlung     treatment

Röntgen (das, can be noun or verb!)  x-ray

Ultraschall (der)    ultrasound

Some sentences might cause misunderstandings, like "Machen Sie sich bitte frei" This means you would have to take off your clothes – at least in the area where you need to be examined.

If the doctor gives you a Rezept (prescription) it means you have to go to the Apotheke (pharmacy) to get your medicine, and you will most likely have to pay EUR 5 or more for it. If you are privately insured, you may have to pay for the medicine yourself in advance and then claim back the money from your insurance company.

And then you made it! Everything else is not a matter of language. We wish you good health and, if possible, no visits to the doctor at all!


To read more about Renate Graßtat, you can click on Education- Language Instruction under Expatica's business directory.

Do you have questions about the German language? Write to Expatica and Renate Graßtat may use your question in a future column.

Renate is currently offering new classes on "Survival German", Business Language, Understanding the Media, German Literature and Exam Preparation 2006. Visit  or call +49 (0) 30 615 26 35 for more information.

Renate Grasstat / Expatica


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