Primary health care
The family doctor and the family nurse
The first contact of a person with health concerns in the health care system is his or her family doctor or family nurse. In situations requiring urgent medical intervention one should indeed turn to the ambulance or the accident emergency medicine department, but in all other cases, the family doctor with his or her team is the first health consultant. A family doctor is a highly skilled physician who is able to diagnose and treat most diseases. In case of concern needing a medical specialist consultation, the family doctor will refer the patient to the relevant specialist.
A family doctor in collaboration with a family nurse diagnoses and treats most diseases, monitors the child’s progress and persons with chronic conditions, performs minor surgical procedures, refers patients to examinations and analyzes, vaccinates, binds the wounds and removes stitches and, if necessary, makes home visits, gives advice on care, injuries or intoxications, and in terms of preventive measures, advises all persons included on his or her list.
The family nurse has independent appointments where he or she teaches, advises and guides people in promoting and maintaining health and preventing disease. The family nurse provides assistance in the event of illness and organizes medical records, in addition, the role of a nurse to monitor people with chronic illnesses. If necessary, the family nurse consults with the family doctor or refers the person to the appointment of the family doctor. Everyone has the right to choose their own family doctor. If he or she fails to do so, the family doctor shall be appointed by the Health Board who will notify the Health Insurance Fund thereof.
The family doctor has the right to refuse to accept a person onto their list if the maximum size limit set for the list of the family doctor has been exceeded. In Estonia, the maximum amount of the list of the family doctor is 2000 people (or 2400, if also an assistant doctor works in the doctor’s office).
How to find a family doctor?
Everyone living in Estonia with a valid residence permit has the right to choose or change a family doctor. It is also obligatory to choose a family doctor when a child is born. Beginning in 2017, all newborns are automatically registered with their mother’s family doctor. A separate application must only be made if you wish your child to be registered with a different family doctor than your own. Usually the need to change a family doctor arises when change in place of residence occurs.
To register or change your family doctor, you must submit a signed application (Estonian: Avaldus perearsti nimistusse registreerimiseks) to the family doctor you have chosen. The application must be submitted in Estonian, for an example you can use English translation of the form. Applications must be submitted for each family member separately. More information about how to choose or change your family physician can be found here.
The application will be reviewed within 7 days, after which the selected family doctor will let you know if you have been accepted to doctor’s directory. After the doctor has confirmed to accept you, you are officially registered with the clinic starting from the 1st date of the following month.
What happens when the doctor declines your application?
A family doctor may decline your request if their directory is full or if the applicant doesn’t live in the doctor’s service area (according to where you have registered your address). In that case you must select another doctor. If you cannot find the family doctor by yourself, you can contact Terviseamet (Estonian Health Board) by calling +372 650 9843.
Family doctors and foreign languages
The selection of a family doctor is based upon the patient’s registered address in the National Registry. Being able to speak English is not a requirement for family doctors to practice in Estonia, so you cannot assume that all family doctors will be able to serve you in your own language. However, it is possible if the doctor and patient agree. You can also visit the doctor with a translator or other support person. Most private practices have service available in other languages.
Addition information can be found on the Health Bureau’s home page.
When you have found a suitable family doctor and you are going to an appointment with the family doctor or nurse, please respect the working principles of the family doctor’s clinic and be prepared to cooperate with them.
In cases of unexpected or minor health issues, you can also ask for an advice from the Estonian family doctors statewide advisory line by calling +372 634 6630 . The service is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, assistance is provided in Estonian and Russian.
Family physician or ER?
If in doubt, whether to dial 112, go to the hospital emergency room or dial 1220, then choose the last option. The advisor from the Family physician’s advisory line will help you find the most suitable solution. If during the call, it appears that your state of health requires emergency care, the call is immediately diverted to the emergency number 112 for dispatching the ambulance.
We have an overview of health symptoms to decide whether to stay at home, go to family physician or when is emergency care need and you should turn to ER. Look it up here.