Health Board advisor helps newly relocated foreign nationals find a family physician

Advisor Andrei started employment with the Estonian Health Board to ensure that foreigners who have come to live in Estonia can get answers to all their health-related questions.

Andrei started working as an advisor in the Department of Healthcare Services of the Health Board in March 2020. His main responsibility is to provide consultations to newly relocated foreign nationals and also to those who live in Estonia but only speak English/Russian. We asked Andrei what his work was like.

Could you please describe the nature of you work and your responsibilities?

I advise people on healthcare services, namely, the system of family physicians. I give information over the phone and by e-mail. Surely, I give consultations in Estonian as well, but my primary job is to provide support to those who speak Russian or English.

About a third of my work involves speaking to people over the phone, and I consult in writing the rest of the time. Currently, I have no face-to-face appointments with people in the office building of the Health Board.

What types of questions do people have when they turn to you?

As a rule, those who have just moved to Estonia have a number of various questions about Estonia and what goes on in the country, but my professional competence allows me to answer only the questions about our healthcare services. People mainly look for family physicians who speak foreign languages in Tallinn and beyond, and I try to connect patients with such professionals and help them register with the family physician. The Health Board hopes for foreign speakers’ understanding of the fact that while medical personnel’s proficiency in English is highly welcome and not uncommon these days, it is still not an obligation required by law.

During the COVID-19 crisis, I had plenty of questions concerning referrals to coronavirus testing. Often there are also more complicated questions from individuals and healthcare providers alike, and I turn to the legal advisor or head of the department in such cases.

Where else would you recommend turning to for health-related information?  

As far as medical issues are concerned, only qualified medical personnel can answer such questions. If one has a health problem, the first point of contact still should be the family physician even if you are a newly relocated foreigner. The information line of family physicians, 1220, provides advice in English every day from 15:00 to 17:00, according to the information available today (2 June 2020).

How do newly settled foreign nationals find you?

When my position had just been created, my contact information was not very widely spread. People who have arrived to live in Estonia can receive information about counselling on the part of the Health Board from the officials and organisations that foreigners contact here, for example, the Police and Border Guard Board which is where one should turn for identification documents.

In the second half of 2020, I am planning to start participating in seminars and webinars for newly relocated expats and also start face-to-face appointments in the International House of Estonia. In addition, I will be introducing the Estonian healthcare system in universities, where possible, so that foreign students know where to go for medical aid.

Have there been any strange or funny situations?

There are often awkward moments when a client and I spell e-mail addresses over the phone for each other. My name is rather long, and many find it difficult to catch, let alone the Estonian word “terviseamet” [Health Board] in the e-mail address. I also sometimes find it challenging to write down an e-mail address I hear on the phone correctly, especially if the person is from a remote country, and the form of their name is not familiar to me. A number of funny occasions have resulted from the clients speaking English or Russian with a strong accent which is difficult to understand.

Have you also had any feedback from people after they found solutions to their questions?

Yes, there has been positive feedback, which has mainly come in by e-mail. It makes me glad to know that someone has actually benefited from my work.

All newly relocated foreign nationals can get advice on healthcare in Estonia from Andrei by e-mail at Andrei.Petuhhov@terviseamet.ee or by calling +372 794 3500.

The position of Health Board advisor was created with funding from the European Social Fund (ESF).