Estonia continuing to increase coronavirus testing capacity

Carside coronavirus testing at Kuressaare Hospital.
Carside coronavirus testing at Kuressaare Hospital. Source: Foto: Margus Muld / ERR

Estonia is continuing to boost its coronavirus testing capacity, with eight more carside testing points coming in the next few days. In a streamlining of processes, from this weekend (March 28-29), calls to medical helpline 1220 about coronavirus and requests for testing will be directed to an on-call family medical center. The center will work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Head of the Family Physicians Association of Estonia (Perearsti selts) Le Vallikivi said phasing in of on-call family medical centers will help ensure family medical assistance to people across Estonia while conserving emergency services and hospital resources for the most urgent cases.

"If needed, phone calls and emails to family medical centers experiencing difficulties are relayed to the center on call, and the capability for receiving patients in acute need of care will also be created," Vallikivi said.

"Furthermore, at on-call centers, remote contacts are preferred; patients are only asked to present if their health condition warrants it, and an  appointment [for this] must be made in advance," she noted.

"The Ministry of Social Affairs, in cooperation with the family physicians association, the Health Board and the Health Insurance Fund, are in the process of launching a system of on-call family medicine centers," said social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center).

"We need to be prepared for a situation where a number of family medicine centers may themselves require assistance due to their own staff falling ill, which could lead to patients losing contact with their family doctor at a time when the need for first-level services is on the rise," Kiik continued.

"Family doctors on call are ready to advise people on weekends and national holidays, and if needed, refer them to testing for COVID-19." he continued.

Those without health insurance will still be treated

Acute illness care qualifies as emergency care, meaning those without medical insurance with the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) will still be treated, and the cost covered by the insurance fund.

If you aren't registered with any family doctor, you can obtain help from the nearest family medicine center, though only do this by phone or email. Do not present at the center unless you have serious health issues.

Expanding coronavirus testing capacity

Coronavirus testing in Estonia is to be widened in eight cities over the next few days.

The state, family doctors and the private sector are cooperating on the matter; test results will be made available within one working day.

Obtaining a test still requires referral from a family doctor.

Coronavirus testing has already risen in recent days in Estonia. Over the March 26-27 period, a total of 1,010 were carried out across Estonia, by far the largest number in a single day. A week ago, the number of tests in a day was only a little over 200.

Carside sampling points, such as those on the island of Saaremaa, are to be boosted with new locations in Tallinn, from Friday, and in Tartu, Pärny, Viljandi, Narva, Paide, Kohtla-Järve, and again on Saaremaa, the most per capita affected region of the country, over the next few days.

The Health Board has also developed criteria for diagnosing coronavirus based on symptoms alone and without laboratory testing,

The methodology was developed in conjunction with family doctors; only those with a clear need for a test will be referred.

Laboratory testing determines the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 in a sample taken either from the nose or the back of the throat – in the case of carside testing while remaning seated in the car. The method is used by the Health Board and hospitals and approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Process of getting a carside testing referral

People who fall sick should call their family doctor, who will assess the need to be tested in accordance with the above protocol, and issue a digital referral if appropriate.

If it is indeed appropriate, a testing center contacts the patient to make a carside testing appointment.

The result of the test will be announced to the patient over the phone within one working day and also registered in the digital health system.

In cases where patients are unable to get access to a car, tests can be conducted at their home.

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik says that Estonia is ahead of the curve compared with some other countries in the growth of testing.

"The number of tests carried out in Estonia has constantly increased, and in that we're ahead of many other states. Guided by recommendations by the WHO and public expectations, the state in cooperation with the private sector is further expanding options for coronavirus testing," he said.

Testing of at-risk groups, such as the elderly, people with chronic diseases, health professionals, social workers and other people whose job relates to curbing the spread of the virus, remains a priority.

Sampling is organized by private sector firms Synlab, Medicum, Qvalitas, Fertilitas and Corrigo, as well as East-Viru Central Hospital (Ida-Virumaa Keskhaigla) and Kuressaare Hospital (Saaremaa).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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