• 2000-12-07
Despite all the intra-Baltic antagonism, there is one topic two of the Baltic countries - Latvia and Estonia - urgently need to face . Both countries' hospitals announced in November that they have no more money left to treat so-called "planned patients."

In a carefully designed campaign, chief physicians explained that without any money available, not even the Hippocratic oath could make them treat patients, as the miserly funds allocated by the countries' respective health-insurance systems at the beginning of this year have already been spent.

Consequently, patients who were thoughtful enough to visit their family doctor, only to find out that their medical problem could be treated only in a hospital, are being turned away and told to return in January or further into the coming year. However, if a patient follows his family doctor's orders and is "fortunate" enough for his illness to reach a critical stage, he'll manage to get into a hospital for treatment as an emergency case.

The present situation is similar to the story written in the 1920s by the well-known Russian black-humor writer Mikhail Zoschenko, where a patient who enters a hospital sees a sign on the wall saying: "sleep faster, your pillow is needed by someone else."

But this is not a joke.

Health-care officials are blaming physicians for being poor managers and calling for hospital reforms in order to use resources more efficiently. "We need the funds," the doctors reply. Not reforms, not private hospitals, just more money. Everyone else is in the wrong - the patient, who pays too small a medical fee (not to mention the patients' secretively paid fees to doctors, which go into doctors' pockets and are considered as a supplement to their salaries), high taxes, tax collectors and taxpayers who fail to fulfill their duties, as well as state bureaucrats who are reluctant to do their job and find ways to increase doctors' salaries.

Maybe it's time for doctors to clean up their act and take a look at the services they offer with a clearer vision. If patients had to pay full price for their services, how many of them would survive the test?

As for officials, if they claim lack of money at the end of every year, (for it's become an annual event), why haven't they implemented the necessary reforms yet?

Since experts have already warned that the health care system in the Baltics will gradually move closer to that of Great Britain's, where patients wait in endless lines to get treatment paid by social insurance, there is no wheel to be re-invented.