Video consultations: How online doctor appointments work in Germany
Germany may be famously reticent when it comes to all things digital, but video consultations are actually becoming an increasingly popular alternative to visiting the doctor. Siemens-Betriebskrankenkasse has put together a summary of how they work and what to look out for.
Each of us visits a doctor's surgery around 10 times a year, on average. Video consultations offer a great alternative, especially now during the coronavirus crisis with everyone trying to limit their social contacts as much as possible. They are increasingly popular with both doctors and their patients and offer clear advantages in some cases.
But when exactly does it make sense to book an online consultation? How can you find out which doctors offer online consultations? And how can you prepare for your appointment? Here's an overview.
Online consultations with a doctor & their advantages
More and more doctors are offering video consultations, with strong support from patients: according to a study by the BKK-Dachverband (German Association of Company Health Insurers), only 5 percent of those asked currently use video consultations. And yet 41 percent of respondents said they wanted to include video and telephone consultations as a long-term option for providing healthcare.
And with good reason, since it saves people time by avoiding long journeys, as well as providing peace of mind by helping them to avoid the risk of infection in crowded waiting rooms.
Did you know that SBK health insurance also covers video consultations?
When does it make sense to have a video consultation?
Video consultations mostly make sense when patients need advice, follow-up care or check-up appointments. For example, when doctors want to see how well the healing process is going following an operation. Doctors can also use video consultations to develop an impression of whether a visit to the surgery or hospital is required.
However, online consultations are not suitable for sensitive issues such as palliative care, or if the doctor needs to give the patient a thorough physical examination.
It’s also good to know that doctors can usually issue a certificate of incapacity for work – which you need in order to get signed off from work and claim sickness benefit – following a video consultation.
In general, even patients who are new to a doctor’s surgery can benefit from an online consultation. When it comes to video consultations with a psychotherapist, however, it’s important that you are already a patient and have been given a diagnosis.
How can I find a suitable doctor offering video consultations?
Many doctors now offer video consultations – more than 25.000 practices in Germany, according to the German Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztlicher Bundesvereinigung). This number is increasing, especially since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
As a first step, it’s best to ask your doctor’s surgery whether they offer the option of online consultations. If you’re an SBK member, your personal consultant can also help you look for a doctor. With the SBK Personal Specialist and Hospital Search, they will be able to find out which doctors already offer video consultations.
Who covers the costs of the video consultation?
Most health insurers, including SBK, cover the cost of these video consultations for you, provided that the doctor has health insurance approval – the same requirement as for an in-person visit to your doctor’s surgery. Private consultations are, however, subject to a fee.
What kind of technology do I need for a video consultation?
As well as a reliable internet connection, all you need is a computer, tablet or smartphone with an internet browser, microphone and camera. Generally speaking, you will not need to install any software. It’s a good idea to find a quiet place with good lighting.
What happens during a video consultation?
First of all, as a patient you will be given an appointment by your doctor’s surgery. You will also be informed about data protection and about how exactly the video consultation will take place. You will also be asked to provide a declaration of consent for your data to be transferred via the video service.
The video consultation itself with then take place via a video service provider appointed by the surgery, which fulfils all the relevant security requirements. The Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigung) currently lists around 45 certified video service providers: they all have to offer end-to-end encryption so that the discussion cannot be overheard by third parties.
The doctor is not permitted to record the online consultation and must conduct the appointment in a room that protects patient privacy. You will be given the internet address of the video provider and a dial-in code.
It’s a good idea to dial in 10 minutes before your appointment time so that a short technical test can be carried out. Once this is complete, you will be taken to an online waiting room. The doctor will join as soon as they are ready. It’s a good idea to have your healthcare card to hand. You may need to hold this up to the camera at the start of your online consultation. Your appointment will then proceed as a “regular” doctor’s appointment would.
Whether it’s for a health screening, check-up, vaccination or acute complaint, some doctors appointments should not be missed – even during the coronavirus pandemic. SBK covers the cost of all medically-necessary treatments by doctors and clinics – both online and in-person. Find out more about SBK’s award-winning coverage.