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HEALTH

Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

Going to the doctor is a necessary part of living overseas, but expect to come across a few cultural quirks when going for a check up in Austria.

A doctor assesses a patient's lungs at a primary care centre in Stockholm.
E-cards are used at every doctor's visit in Austria. (Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT)

Austria is known for having an excellent medical system with easy access to specialists and a focus on preventative health care.

But there are some cultural quirks to get used to when it comes to visiting a doctor in Austria, and at times the experience might feel alien to that in your home country.

Here’s what you need to know.

FOR MEMBERS: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

Take money for optional extras

Social insurance in Austria covers most medical checks and procedures, but there are a few optional extras that require an additional charge.

For example, many gynaecologists carry out breast checks – but at an extra cost that often has to be paid in cash. 

Also, a visit to a skin specialist to check moles might not be fully covered by social insurance, which means paying for a percentage of the cost either up front or later.

This can be confusing, especially for people from countries like the UK where the cost of an appointment is covered by the National Health Service (NHS) and it’s rare to hand over cash to a doctor (unless at a private practice). 

If in doubt, ask your Hausarzt (GP) or a receptionist when making a booking to find out if there is an extra charge to pay, or stop off at the ATM on the way just in case.

READ MORE: More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

Get ready to strip off

Visiting a doctor in Austria often involves a physical examination so expect to take off at least some clothing.

And if you make an appointment for a full medical, prepare to strip down to your bra and pants (for ladies) or boxer shorts (for men). 

For this reason, carefully consider your underwear choice before heading to the doctors and perhaps dig out your best pieces to avoid any embarrassment.

Be prepared to wait

Most Hausarzt practices in Austria operate on a drop-in basis during set times. 

The advantage of this system is that it’s possible to see a doctor on a Wednesday morning without an appointment – as long as you have time to wait.

But if you are in a rush, or have a strict schedule, then the drop in approach can be time consuming. Depending on when you arrive, it could mean a short wait of several minutes or up to an hour.

The best advice is to arrive just as the doors open to secure a place near the top of the queue.

READ ALSO: Austria makes quarantine announcement for monkeypox

Don’t be put off by a stern receptionist or doctor

Ask a group of international residents about their experience of going to the doctor in Austria and you will probably hear about how the bedside manner is “different”.

This is because some doctors, or even receptionists, have a stern and direct approach when dealing with patients, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the country.

Rest assured though, it’s nothing personal and medical care in Austria is usually thorough.

So if you come across a grumpy doctor, the best way to handle it is to either toughen up or find a different doctor.

Expect to be referred to a specialist

Visiting a Hausarzt in Austria is often like visiting a medical gatekeeper as they are responsible for referring patients to specialists.

Thankfully, due to the small population in Austria (just over nine million), an appointment with a specialist can be booked quickly, unlike in other countries where waiting times can be months or even years.

This means medical issues can be treated quickly by a specialist doctor, rather than trying to find the cause of an issue with a more generalised practitioner.

READ NEXT: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Look out for a tip jar

Yes, you might come across a tip jar at a doctor’s practice, usually in the form of a piggy bank in the reception area.

But don’t worry – you are not expected to tip your doctor in Austria. After all, you are already paying social insurance or private insurance premiums.

The tip jar is simply put out by the administration staff and the money is then used to buy coffee and cake for the office team.

There is also no pressure to leave a tip (or Trinkgeld in German) – only if you want to.

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For members

HEALTH

Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Austrian doctors and virologists have warned of a particularly strong flu wave this winter and recommend that people get vaccinated. Here's how to get the shot in each province.

Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Austrian experts have said there would likely be an exceptionally high wave of the flu after hardly any cases were registered in the past two years. The measures against Covid-19 prevented infections with Sars-CoV-2 – and curbed the spread of influenza and other cold viruses.

This is about to change this season as Covid measures were relaxed and airborne viruses spread again, they said.

In principle, the influenza vaccination protects against symptomatic infection for four months: “About 80 percent for H1 viruses, about 50 to 60 percent for H3 strains and 60 to 70 percent for B viruses,” said Monika Redlberger-Fritz, a virologist from Med-Uni Vienna.

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

She added: “But even with vaccine breakthroughs, you are still very well protected against complications, hospitalisations and death.”

Unlike the Covid-19 vaccination, the flu jab is not organised by the federal government but by the respective provinces, which file a report only after the flu season. In every province, the vaccine is free for children, but many ask adults to pay for a fee or get it from their doctors. In Vienna, the flu vaccination is free for everyone.

Here is how to get the vaccine in each province in campaigns carried out with the participation or knowledge of the government – companies and private insurance institutions can also start their own vaccination campaigns.

Vienna

Vienna offers free flu vaccinations for every resident. You can register online with the impfservice.wien or visit one of the centres that accept people without appointments (for example, the Austria Center Vienna). 

All that is necessary is for you to bring a document with your picture and wear an FFP2 mask. If you have an e-card and a vaccination passport, bring those with you as well. There is also a form to fill out, but those are available on-site.  

Lower Austria

The flu vaccine is free for children from six months to 15-years-old, and they can get the shot from established medical specialists. For those who are older, it is possible to receive the vaccination from a registered specialist, company medical service or from their employer, but they may be charged for it.

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Upper Austria

Children aged six months to 15 can get the vaccine for free with their general practitioners and paediatricians. However, you may need to get the vaccine components at the pharmacy with a voucher and register with your doctor.

Older people can get the vaccination directly at vaccination sites in their district for €15. Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

Styria

In Styria, children from six months to age 15 get the vaccine for free with paediatricians or public health services of their district authorities.  Older adults can get it from the public health service for €16 or €27 if they are older than 65. 

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Carinthia

Children (from six months to 15 years) can get the vaccine for free in doctor’s offices or public health centres. You can check HERE for more information and register. For older people, the price is €22, though prices could be different if you go to your doctor instead of a vaccination centre.

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

Burgenland

Children aged six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free in pharmacies and with their physicians. At-risk patients older than that can also get free vaccines, but only while supplies last. 

Otherwise, buying and paying for the vaccine in a pharmacy or with your general practitioner is possible. There are also free vaccinations in elderly and care homes. 

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Salzburg

Children from six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free with any doctor offering it. You can check with your family doctor or paediatrician. Anyone over 15 that wants to get it needs to buy it at a pharmacy (prices vary depending on the vaccine used) and can ask their family doctor. 

There are free vaccinations for residents of elderly and care homes. 

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Salzburg HERE.

Tyrol

The flu vaccine is free for children from six months to the age of 15 years, and they can get it directly from their doctor (a general practitioner or a paediatrician, for example). For those older, it’s possible to vaccinate with their family doctors, but prices vary for the product and pharmacies and the doctor’s fee. 

Residents of elderly and nursing homes aged 60 and over get the vaccination free of charge.

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Tyrol HERE.

Vorarlberg

In Vorarlberg, children aged six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free with their doctors. Adults can also get it from general practitioner’s offices but will need to pay variable costs (depending on doctor fees and which vaccine they choose).

There are free vaccinations for residents of elderly and care homes. 

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Vorarlberg HERE.

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