FOR MEMBERS

How the Austrian healthcare system works

Male doctor
Visiting the doctor can be a bit complicated in a new country, so here's our guide to finding the right medical help. Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels
Falling ill isn't on anyone's to-do list when moving to a new country, but it happens. Here’s what you need to know if you get sick in Austria and need to access healthcare.

Austrian healthcare has a reputation for being of a high standard with modern facilities and easy access to specialists.

In fact, Austria is regularly listed in the top 10 countries in the world for healthcare, including at number nine in a World Health Organization (WHO) ranking and at number four in a CEOWORLD health index.

Not surprisingly though, a high standard of healthcare does not come cheap and in 2020 Austria spent 11.5 percent of GDP on healthcare, according to the latest figures from Statista. In 2019 (pre-Covid times), the amount was 10.4 percent.

As a result, the Austrian healthcare system is primarily public (with the option for private healthcare). So as long as you are a legal resident in Austria and in the social security system, you are eligible for healthcare — although this doesn’t always mean your treatment or medicines are free.

Tourists and temporary residents can also access healthcare if they become unwell in Austria, but often have to pay full price for treatment if they don’t have insurance.

Here’s an overview of the healthcare system in Austria and what to do if you get sick.

How does the healthcare system work?

Healthcare in Austria is covered by social security and enrolment is compulsory for everyone.

For most people, enrolment is automatic when they start work and contributions are taken out of a salary payment each month. This means the cost is linked to income, rather than healthcare needs.

There is a separate social insurance system for self-employed people, which you need to sign up for when you become self-employed, but contributions are still compulsory and linked to earnings.

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Social insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured people, such as partners and children, and to people that might not be able to work, like some students, pensioners and those on unemployment benefits.

For some groups, for example international students who are not co-insured or EU citizens who are self-supporting, you may need to get private insurance to ensure you are covered while in Austria.

What to do if you get sick in Austria

If you are unwell and need to visit a doctor, the first step is to contact your general practitioner or family doctor (Hausarzt) and make an appointment. Be prepared to provide your name and contact details, as well as a brief reason for the visit. To find a doctor, you can use the website praxisplan.at, which shows you where doctors are located as well as which languages they speak.

For non-emergency help, you can also call the healthcare helpline 1450 for advice.

If more specialized care is then required, such as from a chiropractor or dermatologist, the doctor will be able to refer you to a specialist in the local area. In Austria, you can book directly with a specialist rather than waiting for a referral if you know the kind of help you need.

To get a doctor’s appointment you will generally need an e-card or a social insurance number. If you don’t have these, you may be treated as a private patient, which means higher fees.

The e-card is Austria’s electronic healthcare card and is issued to everyone in the social insurance system. It has an electronic chip that is linked to the online database and includes details about health, accident, pension and unemployment insurance.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s e-card? Everything you need to know

Cards issued since January 1st 2020 also include a photo of the insured person.

The e-card is used by doctors to determine if the patient is covered by insurance and which provider will cover the cost of the medical treatment.

A doctor’s appointment is also required to take sick leave from employment in Austria – regardless of how long a person will be off sick. This means people have to visit the doctor even if they have a cold or the flu.

However, during times of high Covid-19 cases during the pandemic it has been possible to register for sick leave by telephone to reduce the burden on doctors.

It’s worth pointing out there is no shortage of doctors in Austria, with data from the WHO showing there are 52 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants. To offer a comparison, in the US there are 26 doctors for 10,000 inhabitants.

Note that not every doctor accepts every form of insurance. Again, the praxisplan.at website allows you to search for a doctor that accepts your insurance fund, or you can look for the term ‘alle Kassen’ (all insurance funds).

It’s also useful to know that annual health check-ups are common in Austria, even if you don’t have a specific medical issue. These are free, and if you are self-employed you can get a free check-up which allows you to reduce your social insurance contributions if you meet certain health goals like maintaining a healthy weight.

Healthcare in an emergency

Everyone in Austria is entitled to emergency medical care – even tourists.

If you experience a medical emergency, or someone else needs urgent medical care, call the following numbers:

144 – ambulance

141 – emergency medical service

112 – European emergency number

There are hospitals in every district and metropolitan area in Austria and the standard of facilities are very high.

Larger and specialized hospitals are usually concentrated in the main cities though, such as Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

READ ALSO: Explained: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

Furthermore, each local authority is responsible for the delivery of care, which means there are often differences in services between the provinces. 

As with visiting a doctor, you will need to show an e-card or social insurance number at the hospital if you have them, although priority is given to treating people in an emergency before bureaucracy is involved. EU citizens should show their EHIC (European Health Insurance Card).

For tourists, travel insurance is recommended to cover any hospital costs in the event of an accident or medical emergency.

Fortunately, many hospital staff in Austria speak a high level of English, although paramedics primarily work in German.

Weekend doctors

Doctors typically only operate from Monday to Friday but each district will have a weekend emergency service (notdienst) for matters that can’t wait until Monday morning.

For example, in the Kitzbühel district of Tyrol, the weekend doctor service rotates around the different practices within the district. Details can be found at the Kitzbühel district website

In Vienna, contact details for the weekend medical services can be found at the City of Vienna website.

To find out more about the weekend doctor service in your district or city, visit the website of your local medical provider.

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Basic medicines

For people from countries like the UK, it might be a shock to realize that basic medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen can’t be easily bought in Austria.

In the UK, painkillers, cough medicine and antihistamine tablets can be picked up in supermarkets alongside a weekly grocery shop. But in Austria, medicine is generally only sold at a pharmacy.

Basic painkillers for treating a headache or allergy medication for hay fever are also more expensive in Austria, and there is a stronger focus on natural or alternative therapies for treating colds and flu.

Prescriptions

If a doctor writes a prescription for medicine, it can be filled at any pharmacy and there is usually a small fee to be paid (approximately €6).

Opening times at pharmacies can vary with some closing for two hours at lunch time, but the Austrian Chamber of Pharmacists has a useful online tool for finding a local pharmacy.

Useful vocabulary

Pharmacy – Apotheke

Prescription – Rezept

General practitioner (GP) – Hausarzt

Hospital – Krankenhaus

Emergency – Notfall

Emergency service – Notdienst


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