Despite the fact that Estonia has largely long since switched over to digital prescriptions, referrals and other e-health solutions, some patients at one Tallinn hospital are still being turned away if they don't have paper referrals.
Last Friday, a patient referred by an East-Tallinn Central Hospital (ITK) specialist to the same medical institution’s diagnostic center was surprised to be told upon check-in that if they did not have a paper referral along, they would not be admitted for their scheduled diagnostic procedure.
The patient, who had assumed that the paper copy of their referral was merely meant to serve as an appointment reminder, was told that, despite the fact that the referral had been written by a specialist at the associated polyclinic next door, the diagnostic center of ITK’s Magdaleena unit did not have access to the electronic database where the existence of an e-referral could be confirmed.
As a result, whether they would be allowed to the procedure in question would be entirely up to the radiologist conducting it, as without a paper referral, there were no grounds for allowing it to proceed. This question ultimately remained unanswered this time as the patient managed to find the paper copy of their referral at the bottom of their bag at the last minute.
ITK Customer Service Division director Lea Karik told ERR’s online news portal that it was true that not all procedures had e-referrals yet, despite the fact that these referrals were in-house.
"In-house referrals at ITK are generally well arranged and get along just fine without paper referrals as well," Karik commented. "There are, however, improvements still underway precisely with regards to radiological and analysis referrals, which is why it is unfortunately not yet possible to always correctly read and connect referrals and therefore vital information is on paper as well."
Karik stressed that if a patient is given a paper referral, they must absolutely hang onto it and take it along with them to the procedure, as it is not just an appointment reminder but rather the only official basis for being admitted for a procedure.
"Naturally we are working on it and moving toward all referrals occur and function electronically," she added.
The customer service director declined to comment when asked how many patients have been turned away from their appointments because they did not have paper copies of their referrals along.
Inter-hospital referrals still largely via paper
Referrals at North Estonia Medical Centre (PERH) are digital, however for the most part, when going from one hospital to another doctor, patients must have paper referrals with them.
"Info as a rule can be exchanged digitally between PERH clinics upon referral," PERH Director of Medical Services Ivi Normet told ERR. "Paper referrals are used as well in inter-hospital referrals. On the national level it is primarily the family doctor-specialist digital referrals for outpatient appointments that have been developed."
According to Normet, information regarding procedures conducted at various medical institutions should be accessible by all healthcare institutions via the country’s centralized health information system provided that diagnostic information and medical history summary have been uploaded there.
Editor: Aili Vahtla