Some doctors refusing to refer patients to COVID-19 testing over light symptoms

  • 2020-08-04
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - People who only exhibit mild symptoms of the coronavirus should nonetheless be referred to testing by family doctors, according to guidelines by the Family Physicians Association of Estonia; however, some doctors are not following said guidelines, leaving patients no other option but to turn to private medical care providers, the online news portal of public broadcaster ERR reports.

ERR describes a situation in which a woman who attended a cycling tour in Latvia and her husband developed virus symptoms on July 20, and decided to called their family doctor when they still felt ill on July 27 in order to get a referral to coronavirus testing. The doctor deemed their symptoms insufficient for a referral and recommended they carry on living their normal life. 

The woman then called the 1220 family doctor hotline for a referral to testing, and was informed that it had to be issued by her family doctor.

The emergency room of the Infectious Diseases Clinic of the West Tallinn Central Hospital only admits patient with severe symptoms and in need of emergency care of hospitalization. Outpatient consultations at the clinic require a referral from a family doctor or a medical specialist.

As it is also not recommended to call an ambulance in case of light symptoms, the only option that remains for getting tested for the coronavirus if one's family doctor refuses to issue a referral, is to turn to Synlab testing stations, where a coronavirus test costs 78 euros. Synlab testing points are located in all major Estonian cities.

Ruth Kalda, member of the management board of the Family Physicians Association and professor of family medicine at the University of Tartu, told ERR that refusing to issue a referral when a patient is exhibiting virus symptoms is not the right call.

The association has sent guidelines to all its members according to which even just one light symptom, such as sore throat, cough or cold, is sufficient for referring the patient to testing as coronavirus symptoms are not always clear or similar in all patients and the course of the virus differs greatly from one patient to another.

Family doctors were also instructed again to refer patients to testing upon the emergence of symptoms when the virus began spreading once more at the end of July. 

Kalda underscored that if a person exhibits virus symptoms, they should refrain from being in contact with other people regardless of whether or not they have tested positive for the coronavirus because other viruses, such as the flu and parainfluenza viruses are likewise highly contagious. 

The testing guidelines, which have been developed in cooperation of the Health Board and the Family Physicians Association, recommend to refer patients to testing also upon the onset of less typical symptoms, such as cold, gastrointestinal symptoms, skin rashes, fatigue and so on, Heli Paluste, head of the health care unit of the Ministry of Social Affairs' department of health system development, said.

Member of the management board of the Family Physicians Association Karmen Joller told ERR that the association has not received any complaints regarding family doctors refusing to refer patients to testing. Rather the contrary, some patients have refused to take the test despite manifesting light symptoms and their doctor deeming the test warranted.