Why do I need to register in advance to see a family physician?

People used to go to their family physician by simply waiting in the corridor for their turn. Unfortunately, there are not enough health care professionals today to deal with everybody at once. Family medicine centres have raised a lot of questions among locals, which Reelika Laht, a specialist from the Health Insurance Fund, will answer.

When should I contact my family medicine centre?

You do not necessarily need to see a doctor immediately with common/mild health problems. Use home remedies if you feel unwell, have a runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, mild stomach pain, or muscle and joint aches. If mild symptoms do not go away within a week or get worse, you should consult your family physician.

To ensure that the patient is in the right place at the right time with their concerns, they should first contact the family medicine centre to make an appointment, for example by calling or writing. The receptionist or family nurse will put them on a waiting list based on the severity of their health problem and the patient will get the necessary help as quickly as possible.

What should I do before contacting my family medicine centre?

First, check their website – many centres use a digital service platform where you can contact your physician. To use the e-service, you first need to log in and then you can, for example, ask for a sick leave, order a repeat prescription, or ask for health advice. This is beneficial for both parties: the patient can record their concerns in detail at any time convenient to them, and the family medicine centre can better plan its schedule by referring the patient to a family physician, a family nurse, or another specialist working in the family medicine centre, depending on the urgency and specificity of the concern.

Why am I referred to a call centre?

More than half of the family medicine centres in Estonia use a call centre, or a reception service, which helps to respond more effectively to the concerns of patients. Even if the family medicine centre is unable to answer you immediately, your call will be logged in the system and you will be called back on the same day.

By logging the calls, we can make sure that we get back to every patient.

How does the call centre work?

The call centre service can be used to sort, queue, transfer, monitor, and document calls. The centre can also add messages to callers on hold and call back missed calls.

Calls are also tracked – the service provides information on how many calls someone has made, how long they have been on hold, and which calls have or have not been answered. Thanks to the call centre, we can see all incoming calls and the number of calls by one person. It also shows when someone has already answered the call, meaning we do not call back patients who have already been provided help.

Queue notifications are a great help with the call centre service. If all the receptionists are busy, the patient will be given information about other possible channels to contact the centre while waiting. The call centre notification will direct patients to the online environment of family physicians, where the caller can describe their problem, after which they will be contacted as soon as possible. This way, the physician is already aware of the problem and can contact the patient with a clearer plan of action.

What information do I need to provide during the phone call or via the online solution?

It is very important to be as specific as possible about your health concerns and the need for see a physician. You have to tell the receptionist your personal identification code over the phone. If your symptoms include a fever, acute pain, etc., let the receptionist know. If you are requesting a prescription renewal, you must also know the name of the medicine for which the renewal is requested.

It is important that the patient lets us know if they might have difficulty getting to the centre. Neither the receptionist nor the family nurse may be aware that the patient has mobility limitations. If the patient needs a prescription but cannot go to the pharmacy the next day, they should mention this in advance so that the health care professional can fill the prescription on the same day.

When is the best time to call the family medicine centre?

If you have an urgent health concern, you should contact the centre as soon as possible, i.e. call first thing in the morning, so that you can get an appointment or find a solution as soon as possible.
If you do not have an acute health problem that needs urgent intervention, we recommend calling in the evening.

How quickly will I get an appointment?

Providers of general medical care must see a patient with an acute medical condition on the same day, or within five working days in other cases, depending on the severity of the medical condition of the patient. In most cases, your first point of contact at the family medicine centre will be your family nurse, who will assess your health and treatment needs, as well as give advice on minor health problems.