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Health Board: the spread of the omicron strain leads to longer waiting times and queues at general practitioner clinics

Health Board: the spread of the omicron strain leads to longer waiting times and queues at general practitioner clinics

The rapid spread of the omicron strain of coronavirus has led to a very heavy work overload at general practitioner clinics. The Health Board is asking people to be patient. It would like to remind patients that some of their issues could be addressed through other information channels.

According to the Estonian General Practitioners Association, both the rapid spread of coronavirus and the onset of the viral season have led to a situation in which the number of phone calls and referrals has drastically increased within a week. At the same time, the number of staff members in general practitioner clinics who themselves become infected is rising, making it even more difficult to respond to patient concerns. ‘It is natural that people reach for the phone in order to consult their general practitioner when they have a problem with their health. Our aim is that nobody should be left alone with their health concerns. However, people should remain patient during the next few weeks. First of all, we have to help those who need immediate care,’ explained Dr Karmen Joller, a member of the board of the Estonian General Practitioners Association. ‘We would like to urge people not to phone their general practitioner’s clinic with non-medical questions which are related to coronavirus, as this will delay getting help and advice to those people who really do need it from their doctor or the nurse. Information can also easily be found via kriis.ee or vaktsineeri.ee,’ stressed Dr Joller.

Mari-Anne Härma, acting director-general of the Health Board, recommends that prior to going to your general practitioner, you should think about whether it is an easily dealt-with health concern or more simply a question which could be answered via the kriis.ee website or by calling the national information hotline on 1247, which itself can provide information on topics which do not directly concern the health of an individual but are still often asked of general practitioners. ‘A very heavy burden has also fallen on the shoulders of general practitioners when it comes to issuing referrals for coronavirus testing. We are currently working on a solution so that access to testing will not depend upon getting a general practitioner on the phone. In the meantime, please be patient. The first half of the week is always busier and waiting times are often longer. If you cannot get in touch with your general practitioner, you can also ask for a referral by contacting the general practitioner’s helpline on 1220,’ explained Härma.

According to Härma, coronavirus is currently very widespread across Estonia, which is why the Health Board recommends that everyone reduce their contact with others, keep their distance, and wear a mask indoors. ‘We can see an increase in the number of infections, especially amongst children, which means that a large proportion of new infections are either coming from school or from the family circle if there are school children in the family. However, as the virus spreads very quickly and is often unnoticed, it is possible to become infected anywhere in which you can come into contact with strangers,’ Härma related.
 

A reminder for the patient

  • Where can you turn to ask for a referral for testing? If you have a medical condition and need to be tested, you can also request a referral by contacting your general practitioner’s helpline on 1220. Testing is only for people who have symptoms of the condition.   
  • How should you act if the test result turns out to be positive? You do not need to inform your general practitioner’s clinic if the test result is positive. The patient’s home care guide can be found on the General Practitioners Association website: www.perearstiselts.ee/patsient/koduse-ravi-juhend-taeiskasvanutele, which also defines the symptoms for which you should consult your general practitioner or family nurse.
  • How should you act if you find out you are a close contact? Close contacts will find guidance here: www.terviseamet.ee/koroonaviirus/olen-lahikontaktne.
  • How long do you need to remain in isolation? The Health Board would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that a person who tests positive must remain at home in isolation for at least ten days, and only then can the doctor decide whether that person has fully recovered or not. The period of isolation for an infected person who has tested positive will not be shortened, even if the symptoms resolve themselves at a point earlier than the required ten days of isolation. The quarantine period was reduced from ten to seven days only for unvaccinated and uninfected close contacts. You can also calculate the isolation period yourself here: https://isolatsioonikalkulaator.netlify.app.
  • When should you request advice from your general practitioner or family nurse? In the case of less severe health problems it is recommended that you contact your general practitioner’s clinic via email, and please be aware that it may take a while to get a response. If you have a more serious health problem, you should not put off seeing a doctor, but only if you are in urgent need should you call repeatedly, while remaining calm and patient. Your call will be answered as soon as possible. If you need emergency care, please call 112.
  • The latest information, along with all updates, regarding vaccinations and those restrictions which are currently in force can be found here: kriis.ee and vaktsineeri.ee.

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