Under the Finnish constitution, public authorities must guarantee the observance of civil liberties and human rights.
The Act on the Status and Rights of Patients lays down these constitutional rights in more detail in respect of health care. Key patient rights:
Right to good quality healthcare and fair treatment
Every person residing permanently in Finland has the right to receive such healthcare his/her medical condition requires. Treatment will be given according to resources currently available to the healthcare service.
The patient has the right to expect good quality in healthcare. Patient must be treated in such way that their beliefs and privacy are respected and their dignity remains unoffended.
The patient’s native language, culture and individual needs must be taken into account when possible in his/her treatment.
Healthcare services must be provided in such way that all persons despite age, medical condition or abilities have the same status. Only medical reasons can affect treatment decisions. Equality regulation of the Finnish Constitution requires that a person has access to certain services regardless of municipality of residence.
Access to treatment
A patient must have fast access to urgent care if her/his illness or injury requires it.
Access to non-emergency treatment is regulated by Finnish public health law and Finnish special health care law. Health centres must be immediately available by telephone on weekdays. The patient’s need for treatment must be evaluated within three days of initial contact. The need for treatment may be evaluated by telephone and evaluation can be carried out by other healthcare professionals as well and not only a physician. If the situation requires it, the patient must be scheduled an appointment at a health centre within three weekdays.
At a hospital, a healthcare professional must evaluate the patient’s need for treatment within three weeks from the hospital receiving the patient’s referral. Evaluation consists in the referral or possible further examination of the patient at the hospital. If a healthcare professional estimates that treatment is necessary, treatment must begin in six months. Necessary mental health treatment for children and adolescents must begin in three months.
The patient must be notified of date of beginning of treatment. If the date is changed, the patient must be notified of the reason for change and given a new date for beginning of treatment.
If the hospital is unable to treat the patient in the required time the hospital must arrange treatment elsewhere, for example at another hospital or in private healthcare. This cannot cause further expanses to the patient.
Patient’s right to access own medical records
The patient must be briefed on her/his health unprompted. He/she must be given information on different treatment alternatives, effects of the treatments and possible side effects. The patient must be given information on all such aspects relating to his/her treatment that are significant when deciding about the treatment.
However, the patient must not be given information if she/he refuses the information. In addition, information must not be given if physician holds it evident that giving the information would cause serious danger to the patient’s life or health. If the patient wishes to access the information, mere doubt that the information might harm the patient is not a valid reason for denying access.
The information must be given in such way that the patient understands it well enough. If a healthcare professional does not speak the patient’s language or the patient cannot be understood because of speech or sensory disorders, an interpreter may be used when possible. Delivery of information must be marked in the patient’s medical records. If information has not been delivered, reason for it must be marked in the medical records.
The patient has the right to examine her/his own medical information held in medical records. If the patient finds the information faulty, he/she can request a correction.
The patient must agree to be treated. The patient must not be given such treatment or subjected to such operations she/he refuses. If the patient refuses certain treatment, the patient must be treated depending on circumstances with another medically acceptable alternative the patient approves.
If the patient and physician cannot reach an agreement on the treatment, final decision rests with the physician by virtue of medical reasons. The patient does not have the right to receive any treatment she/he wishes.
The patient has the right to refuse treatment. She/he may deny treatment or an operation even if it would be necessary to remove a danger to his/her health or life. The physician must explain in a comprehensible way to the patient what refusing will cause. If the patient still refuses medical examination or treatment, then this refusal must be marked in medical records and marking must be confirmed in a verifiable way.
Patients or their next of kin who are dissatisfied with the care provided are entitled to submit an objection to the Health Care Director of the unit in question and/ or the Regional State Administrative Agencies or to the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health.