The Role of Family Physicians in the Coronavirus Crisis
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus epidemic a pandemic. In Estonia, the first case of infection was confirmed on 27 February 2020. The Board of the Family Physicians Association of Estonia heard about it on the same day, in a train, on their way to the conference of family doctors in Narva. On 12 March 2020, the Health Board of Estonia announced that the number of cases had increased to 27 and the virus was spreading locally. In the late evening of that day, emergency situation was declared in Estonia. It was to last until 1 May. On 25 March, the first death case due to COVID-19 in Estonia was reported.
The role of the family physicians in the coronavirus crisis was translating the complicated information into the form understandable for the population and explaining the changed organisation of work of the medicine system. Globally spreading infectious diseases are actually nothing new to doctors – humankind has encountered them for thousands of years, and the modern basics of treatment of epidemics are at least 150 years old.
The spring 2020 wave of COVID-19 was like a large-scale exercise: various scenarios were tested, that were mostly realised only during the second wave, and even then not in the full extent. The style of working of family health centres became more flexible, and during both the first and the second wave of the virus, only a few family health centres needed outside help.
We can draw a bold conclusion that actually the family physicians were ready for more intense extraordinary work. Extraordinary work did not exceed the capabilities of family physicians even during the second wave of COVID-19, when Estonia’s infection rate was one of the highest in the world. The same can be said about vaccination capability.
The family health centres acquired several new useful practices for the future, like better planning of daily work, and sharing the work between office and teleworking. They will also retain the more effective digital solutions. During the whole pandemic, the family physicians experienced lots of support, helpfulness and generosity from both their patients and the public, many volunteers offered their help. Trust between colleagues and the confidence of the family physicians in the COVID-19 working group increased. The cooperation between the family physicians and the government was close and effective – this was especially noticed by the colleagues working abroad, who followed the events in Estonia.