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Can you expect your doctor in Austria to speak English?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Can you expect your doctor in Austria to speak English?
A doctor is pictured inside his office as he talks on the phone. Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP

Austria is a German-speaking country, but how unreasonable is it to expect a professional such as a medical doctor to speak English to patients?

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One of the first pieces of advice foreigners receive when they move to Austria is "learn German". Yes, Austria is a German-speaking country, and your quality of life will improve significantly as you integrate better and can better navigate your surroundings (particularly when it comes to the language).

However, not everyone has the possibility of learning German straight away (maybe they have other commitments with work or family), the language is not an easy one to grasp, or perhaps they've learnt German but prefer to deal with specific sensible topics - like your own health - in their native or better language, English.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

How unreasonable is it to expect a doctor of medicine to speak English in Austria?

It depends on many factors.

If you are looking for an English-speaking doctor in Vienna, you will have more luck than searching outside the Austrian capital. Numbers from the popular doctor search portal DocFinder show this clearly.

The platform has 202 family doctors who have stated they speak English on their pages - 63.4 percent of them are in Vienna. 

DocFinder is by no means an extensive list of all the more than 47,700 doctors in Austria.

The Chamber of Doctors in Vienna has a list of all the registered doctors in the capital. Of more than 9,800 employed doctors in Vienna, only 963 are registered as English speakers. You can find the list HERE.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

On the other side of Austria, the Vorarlberg Chamber of Doctors has 369 doctors who have a medical practice and take ÖGK (the most common social insurance) patients. Of them, only 193 are registered as English speakers. In the capital, Bregenz, of the 264 registered employed doctors, only 26 speak English.

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Personal experiences vary

On expat Facebook Groups, the topic of English-speaking Austrians is a common one. Residents are often divided, with many "impressed" that people in the health profession "speak perfect English", but others, often outside Vienna, share different experiences.

One resident said: "I’ve had medical professionals in Burgenland look horrified about my need for English communication". Another one, in Klagenfurt, shared a similar experience. 

Alessandra Kemper, who lives in Vienna, shared that she had no trouble finding private doctors who spoke English but that when it came to hospitals and emergency services, it was "hit and miss".

She added: "Something that is very common here is to see that the health professional will sometimes speak English, but the people around them, such as reception desk workers at hospitals, won't. I recently had to call an ambulance for my son, and the person on the phone couldn't speak English. We managed, but sometimes the support staff doesn't speak English, and that can be really difficult".

"But I always try to find a doctor who speaks English, it's too much of a risk to misunderstand some instruction maybe, we are talking about our health here. Especially living in a foreign country", she said.

Rafaela Conceição told The Local that she has had all sorts of experiences in that sense. "I was having frequent checkups at a health service at Klinik Landstrasse a couple of years ago. You were never checked by the same doctor. Everyone would speak English with me, but once, a doctor answered me with "Wir sind in Österreich. Hier sprechen wir Deutsch"", she said.

The doctor had told her, "We are in Austria. Here, we speak German". 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Austria's new healthcare reform

Rafaela, who had recently moved to Vienna from Portugal and was still learning German, had to make do with what she had already learned of the language. "Luckily, the questions weren't that complicated, and since I had already had several control appointments similar to that one, there were things that I could understand through context", she said.

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But it was still a frustrating experience: "English is essential nowadays to almost every sector. I don't understand how they've studied medicine and never had to read scientific papers or books in English".

What has been your experience with speaking English within the Austrian healthcare system? Let us know in the comments below.

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