Reader question: Can doctors charge a cancellation fee in Austria?
Austrians value punctuality and, naturally, showing up for commitments. If you miss a doctor's appointment, you might be charged a fee. Here's what you need to know.
Moving to a new country comes with many responsibilities, including learning about specific customs and rules that might not have been common in your country of origin. In Austria, people famously value punctuality and, of course, showing up for your commitments.
When it comes to doctors' appointments, you could have to pay a high fee if you fail to show up. So, here's what you need to know.
Can doctors charge a cancellation fee?
Yes, they are legally allowed to charge a cancellation fee if you don't show up to your appointment or cancel last minute. The actual cost varies but can't be higher than €200.
Each doctor will have a different policy, and not all of them charge a cancellation fee, so check how far in advance you can cancel an appointment without having to pay the fee. Some doctors will also give exceptions, especially if they know the patient is usually punctual and had an unexpected event that prevented them from coming to the scheduled Termin.
"We understand that something comes up. But then you also have to cancel the appointment. Especially because there is a lot to do at the moment, we have encouraged our colleagues to charge a compensation fee for these last-minute cancelled appointments," said Christoph Fürthauer, spokesman for physicians in private practice in Salzburg.
Anyone who fails to keep a doctor's appointment without cancelling in advance is harming not only the doctor but also other patients, Fürthauer added. More often, "repeat offenders" are asked to pay. "For minor things or patients you've known for a long time, you'll be more accommodating. But it's really up to the individual doctor how they handle it," he said.
Keep a written confirmation of the appointment
Doctors and doctors' offices are not infallible, however - neither are the patients. So if you don't attend an appointment due to a misunderstanding over the date or time of the scheduled meeting, you might have to pay for the fee regardless of whether or not the mistake was yours.
This is almost what happened to Joana, a Brazilian living in Vienna. She said that two days before her first visit to a doctor in the Austrian capital, she got an angry call from the doctor's office claiming she had missed the appointment and would have to pay a €90 fee.
"It was scary. I barely spoke German and suddenly had this very angry man shouting at me on the phone. I had to hang up because he was being completely unreasonable and wouldn't lower his voice," she told The Local.
"Luckily, I was very insecure about my German and thought scheduling the appointment via email would be best. I went back to check and he had the wrong date; my Termin wasn't for a couple of days. I replied on the same thread confirming the date again and saying it was very rude to call me like that - but got no apologies, of course."
This case points out the importance of having a written confirmation of your appointment. Even if many doctors already have online booking offers, many still only reply to phone calls and will only schedule appointments on the telephone.
If that is the case, send a follow-up email confirming the date and time just to be sure.