'Kur': The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria
In Austria, prevention and self-recovery play a big part in the healthcare system. Here are some alternative treatments that might not be prescribed elsewhere.
The style of healthcare in Austria is often different to other countries, especially when it comes to prescribing medication.
This is because doctors in Austria have a holistic approach to medicine with a preference for natural and alternative treatments. This is so ingrained that it can even be difficult to get a prescription for antibiotics or sleep medication.
For some, alternative treatments and a focus on the power of rest for recovery can be a good thing. Particularly when compared to many western countries where there is a culture of presenteeism and a habit of dishing out medication without dealing with the cause of an illness.
But it can also be confusing (and frustrating) for people that are used to leaving a doctor’s office with a prescription for medicine, as opposed to an alternative treatment.
Here's what you need to know about healthcare in Austria.
How does healthcare work in Austria?
Social insurance (which covers healthcare) is compulsory for people living in Austria, unless you have private comprehensive insurance.
Enrolment in the public health care system is generally automatic and is linked to employment, including self-employment. Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, as well as pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.
The cost of healthcare is linked to income rather than health needs.
But Austria actually operates a two-tier healthcare system, so residents can have their own private policies as well. Likewise, doctors can choose to work with public or only private patients – or both.
Also, expect a different style of bedside manner in Austria when compared with many other countries – most notably in a lack of small talk.
It is not rare for consultations to last just a few minutes, a drastic change for people from South America, for example, where doctors sometimes spend 30 to 60 minutes talking to patients.
What alternative treatments can be prescribed?
One of the most well-known (and most surprising) alternative treatments in Austria is a Kur. This is a spa break for rest and recuperation and it must be prescribed by a doctor.
A Kur is covered by social insurance and the aim is to keep people in work by allowing them some time out to recover from an illness or injury. But don’t expect a chilled-out week by a pool as a Kur usually involves a rigorous schedule of physio and massage.
For some people – like those diagnosed with Long Covid or recovering from burnout – a stay at a medical rehabilitation facility for several weeks might be prescribed. In this case, the schedule might include sessions with a psychotherapist, as well as physical therapy to aid recovery. Again, the cost is covered by social insurance.
Another alternative treatment that can be prescribed by a doctor is for a package of infrared (Infrarot) sauna sessions. This is often for people with back or mobility issues.
Similarly, a referral (Überweisung) to a physiotherapist is given out to people with injuries, usually far quicker than in countries like the UK where it can take several months to access physio through the public health system.
And controversially, some Austrian doctors still prescribe homoeopathic remedies in exceptional cases. An example would be when all other treatment options have been exhausted and homoeopathy could improve the situation.
How to get alternative healthcare treatments in Austria?
As with most health issues in Austria, the first step is to visit a general practitioner (Hausartz). Your doctor should then explain treatment options.
In most cases, if an alternative treatment is suitable, then a doctor should offer it. Or at the very least, provide you with a referral to a specialist who could then prescribe a treatment.
However, treatments like a Kur or a stay at a rehabilitation facility are not always prescribed straight away. For example, a Long Covid patient might have to visit a doctor several times before being offered a place at rehab.