Patients will be admitted to hospital later and some will be discharged earlier than usual under new triage guidelines published by the Health Board.
The new rules have been updated as hospitals are expecting the coronavirus situation to worsen in the coming weeks, a situation exacerbated by a shortage of healthcare workers.
Triage will be introduced when medics need to decide who to treat because there are too many people to admit everyone. The guidelines are not yet being implemented.
Currently, the situation is the worst in south Estonia. At the Tartu University Hospital (TÜK), new COVID-19 wards have been opened, some in operating theaters, and scheduled treatment has been suspended.
Last week, medics requested triage advice from the Health Board and government.
Juri Karjagin, senior physician and head of the department of anaesthesiology at TÜK, said the rules were read on Friday so they can be implemented smoothly when needed.
"Because there are actually legal issues, ethical issues," he said, adding the hospital also has a pastor and lawyer.
Karjagin said the new guidelines have tightened up the criteria for hospital admittance.
"If a person has pneumonia, for example, but they do not need extra oxygen, then they can have pneumonia at home," he said, giving an example of the rules.
A second example is asthmatic patients. Previously, people who experienced an acute asthma attack would be brought to the emergency department and admitted for care and monitoring. Under the new guidelines, if the hospital situation worsens, they will be sent home.
"We will give advice, if the asthma attack recures, they can come back to hospital," he said.
A third rule has been created for people with appendicitis who do not need surgery. If the symptoms are mild, they will be given advice, antibiotics and sent home. Should the symptoms worsen and surgery is needed, the patients will be sent home as soon as possible.
The Health Board has promised to publish the new guidelines for the public in the near future.
Editor: Helen Wright