Personal family doctor referral no longer necessary for coronavirus testing

Coronavirus testing equipment at Tallinn Airport.
Coronavirus testing equipment at Tallinn Airport. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

As the fall virus season approaches, it is now possible to head for coronavirus (COVID-19) testing with a referral from any family doctor, not only your registered doctor. It is recommended to take a test as soon as symptoms arise, even mild ones.

Le Vallikivi, chairwoman of the board of the Estonian Society of General Practitioners, told ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Sunday: "If a person is ill, they must stay at home, But the corona paradox is that it could also express symptoms mildly. It could be practically indistinguishable from an illness that pediatrician Dr. Tarraste calls a regular Soviet cold."

She added that a family doctor should be contacted as soon as doubts arise. "It could be a runny nose, sore throat, chest pain, cough or cold. We do not know if it is COVID-19 or another viral illness before we test."

A regular cough could last for six to eight weeks, a runny nose two to four. "That does not mean that we should sit at home with our runny nose, it is reasonable to do the test and if it is the so-called 'Soviet cold', you can be in more contact with people. But they should be warned because some people may be scared," Vallikivi added.

As fall is in full swing, the season of viruses has led many to stay at home with a cold and not contact their doctor. They are then also not referred to coronavirus testing. Vallikivi does not consider this reasonable action and recommends taking a test as soon as the first symptoms arise to keep the circle of close contacts as small as possible.

The doctor said: "I can not imagine what a person might feel if they think they have a common sore throat, but later elderly parents or kindergarten teachers are infected. It is better to be safe in that case."

The recommendation of testing for mild symptoms also extends to adults. Physicians are currently discussing the possible process for children under 10 who constantly have runny noses in fall. The plan will be clear next week.

In Estonia, a referral is needed for testing. Vallikivi thinks this requirement is reasonable because family physicians have an overview of patients infected with COVID-19, whose condition should be carefully followed, especially on the seventh and eighth day of infection. She added that a referral should be demanded, even if the physician does not want to give one over light symptoms.

The family physician's helpline (number 1220) was given the right to refer people to testing in July, allowing people to receive help on weekends. On Saturday and Sunday, the helpline referred more than 200 people to testing, doubling the number from the previous weekend, leading to long queues for personal counseling.

Klarika Kallikorm-Rannamets, project manager at the family doctors' advice hotline, told "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Sunday that the helpline has taken over the function of close to 800 Estonian family doctors.

She recommends people keep initial symptoms under control with over-the-counter medicines and to turn to a family physician on Monday. "I call on people to stay at home if symptoms arise and the referral being done by us on Sunday or a family doctor on Monday makes no significant difference. You still have to stay at home," Kallikorm-Rannamets said.

Family physicans have agreed that if a patient is suspected to have the coronavirus, a referral can also be received from the closest doctor, removing the need to travel across the country to got to the person's family physician.

Since demand for testing is significant, times are occasionally given a day or two after calling, delaying test results a few days. Many doctors have started taking tests themselves to combat the demand.

Kallikorm-Rannamets said: "If we test the patients at the scheduled times ourselves, it does not normally take three days for results, they are mostly available the same day or the day after."

She added that all family medicine centers do not have the sufficient capabilites to test however as it is not possible to separate the infected person from other patients at the health care institution.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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