Healthcare in Finland
Health care in Finland consists of a highly decentralized, three-level publicly funded health care system and a much smaller private health care sector. Although the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has the highest decision-making authority, the municipalities (local governments) are responsible in providing health care to their residents.
Finland offers its residents universal health care. Health promotion, including prevention of diseases has been the main focus of Finnish health care policies for decades. This has resulted in the eradication of certain communicable diseases and improvement in the health of population.
The quality of service in Finnish health care is considered to be good; according to a survey published by the European Commission in 2000, Finland has the highest number of people satisfied with their hospital care system in the EU: 88% of Finnish respondents were satisfied compared with the EU average of 41.3%.
- 1 History
- 2 Health status
- 3 Organizational structure
- 4 Health financing
- 5 Private sector
- 6 National health insurance
- 7 Pharmaceuticals
- 8 Health information technology
- 9 Immigrant health care
- 10 Health equity
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Finland’s journey to a welfare state has been long, from a very modest start. The history of modern medicine in Finland can be considered to have begun at 1640 when the first university of Finland, The Royal Academy of Turku, was established. At the time Finland was a part of the Swedish Empire. As the field of medicine did not enjoy very high status in society at the time, the importance of trained medical faculty remained low for a long time. Until 1750, the professor of medicine was the only trained medical doctor in Finland.
An example of early treatment facilities for tuberculosis and leprosy was a hospital on the island of Själö (or Seili in Finnish) which was established on the 1624 and run by the church. It was chosen due to its remote location from the mainland. It was not however until 1759 that the first hospital, albeit a modest hospital, was established in Turku. Consisting of six patient beds in a simple wooden building, it nonetheless marked the first step toward the modern Finnish medical system. It is noteworthy that at the time, Finland had a much lower doctor-patient ratio comparing to neighboring countries. This lasted all the way until the 20th century.
Mainly due to the poor hygiene, famine, and poverty, the most common causes of death in the mid-19th century consisted of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery and typhoid fever.
While the number of hospitals increased rapidly from the late 19th century onward, it was still uncommon to be treated in one. The largest causes of mortality were coronary heart diseases for men and breast cancer for women. In 1929, a special committee was established to evaluate the status of health care in Finland. Due to the lack of service providers outside cities, it was suggested that municipalities establish local hospitals for their citizens. The decision to establish publicly funded hospitals can be considered the base of the current model of modern health care in Finland.
The plans to reform the health care system were delayed due to the Second World War, but the increased need of medical care due to injuries to the soldiers may have enhanced the development of the hospital network. In the 1950s, Finland had two university hospitals, in Helsinki and Turku. Due to the increased demand of medical care and lack of medical doctors, more medical faculties and university hospitals were established.
During the 20th century, a notable contribution to the reduction of infant mortality was achieved by Arvo Ylppö. He conducted research about children’s pathological anatomy and attracted international recognition for his work. He has also contributed to the development of nursing education, pharmacy industry and public awareness over health issues.
Health care indicators
Finnish health care can be considered a success because of several indicators. For example, due to public health interventions and progress in medical care, there has been a remarkable improvement in life expectancy over the past couple of decades. Life expectancy in 2012 was 84 years for women and 78 years for men, which has ranked Finland favorably against global comparisons. Impressive results have also been achieved regarding rates of Infant mortality and maternal mortality, which are also amongst the lowest in the world. The infant mortality rate in Finland, as in other OECD countries, has fallen greatly over the past few decades. The rate in 2013 was 1.8 per 1000 births.
In 2009, Finland had 2.7 practicing physicians for every 1000 people, which is very low compared to the other Nordic countries. This can partly be explained by the importance placed on the use of nurses, who greatly reduce the need for practicing physicians. An example being in 2009 where there were 9.6 nurses per 1000 people, a larger amount then those in the comparable Nordic nations.
Finland is considered successful particularly in regards to specialized medical care and the coverage of its screening and vaccination programs. Finland has a very comprehensive screening program for breast cancer where 84 per cent of women, aged 50 to 69 years, annually take part. The vaccination program for young children is also very inclusive, as 99 per cent of children under 2 years of age are vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis) and measles.
Lower fertility rates and an aging population, due to increased life-expectancy, brings new challenges to the Finnish health care system. As there will be fewer people to pay for health and social care, many of the aging population can be predicted to be effected. It is estimated that the old age dependency ratio in Finland will be the highest of all EU countries in 2025.
HIV/AIDS is not a major public health concern in Finland. The prevalence among adult population on 2009 was 0.1%. HIV/AIDS in Europe is much more common than in Finland, and the countries very near to Finland have much higher prevalence rates, due to increased travel HIV/AIDS rates in Finland may rise.
The most significant public health problems are currently circulatory diseases, cancer, muscoloskeletal diseases and mental health problems. Emerging problems are obesity, chronic lung diseases and type 2 diabetes. 300 000 Finns are diagnosed with diabetes. Approximately 200 000 suffer from type 2 diabetes unknowingly and many more have prediabetes. The number of people with diabetes are estimated to double in 10 years. Most of the incidences could be prevented with healthy life styles, i.e. sufficient level of physical activity, obtaining normal weight and eating healthy.
Major causes of deaths in Finland are cardiovascular diseases, malignant tumors, dementia and alzheimers disease, respiratory diseases, alcohol related diseases and accidental poisoning by alcohol. In 2010 the leading causes of death among men aged 15 to 64 were alcohol related deaths, ischaemic heart disease, accident, suicides, lung cancer and cerbrovascular diseases. Among women the leading causes were breast cancer, alcohol related deaths, accidents, suicides, ischaemic heart disease and lung cancer.
Suicide mortality in Finland has generally been one of the highest in Europe, but it has reduced to 18 per 100 000 population in 2005. One reason for this may be the large national suicide prevention project which was carried out between 1986 and 1996. The World Health Organization has compiled a list of countries by suicide rate. There is a high level of education of mental health workers in Finland and several effective mental health programs have been conducted within at-risk groups
The total annual alcohol consumption has risen from 7.6 litres (in 1985) to 10.0 litres of 100% alcohol equivalent per capita in 2010. There has been a small reduction in alcohol consumption in the recent years. Alcohol use is highest in the Northern Finland with 10,9 liters and lowest at the Åland Islands with 5,7 liters per person. Although the consumption is average to other western countries, binge drinking with especially teenagers and becoming intoxicated has remained as a characteristic of Finnish drinking habits. Finland has a national alcohol programme to reduce the long-term effects of alcohol. The World Health Organization has published a list of countries by alcohol consumption.
Smoking among adults has shown a marked decline over the past thirty years in most OECD countries. Much of this decline also in Finland can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation. Smoking in Finland has reduced, and now the smoking rates among adults in Finland in 2009 stood at 18.6%, lower than the OECD average of 22.3%.
Drug use is not a major public health problem in Finland. The most commonly used drug is cannabis. According to a study from 2008, the percentage of the population aged 15 to 69 who had at some point in their lives tried cannabis was 13%; 3% of the population had used cannabis within the previous 12 months.
Overweight and obesity are common in Finland. Half of the adults are overweight, and every fifth adult is obese. The weight in men has increased since 1970’s, in women since 1980’s. Among the Nordic countries Finland ranks the highest in a percentage of adults who are overweight. In comparison to other European countries, Finland is slightly above the average but overweight is still more common in South Europe and Great Britain. Overweight among children and adolescents has also become widespread. The number of overweight 12- to 18-year-olds has nearly tripled in the past four decades. 10% of boys and 15% of girls in preschool were overweight in a follow-up from 2007 to 2009
The Government decides on general national strategies and priorities and proposes bills to be discussed by the parliament. Health care policy is primarily the field of Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Ministry also directs and guides the development and policies of social protection, social welfare and health care. Due to the decentralized public administration, municipalities decide themselves how the local services are provided. Every municipality has a responsibility to offer health care services to their residents and it is usually provided municipal health care centers.
Primary care is obtained from the health care centers employing general practitioners and nurses that provide most day-to-day medical services. Health centers are also active in health promotion activities. The general practitioners are also gatekeepers to the more specialized services in the secondary and tertiary care sectors, as a referral from primary care provider is necessary to receive care on the secondary and tertiary levels. Primary health services provided by municipalities are defined in the Primary Health Care Act.
Secondary care is provided by the municipalities through district hospitals where more specialist care is available. Secondary care is provided by regional hospitals. Finland also has a network of five university teaching hospitals which makes up the tertiary level. These contain the most advanced medical equipment and facilities in the country. These are funded by the municipalities, but national government meets the cost of medical training. These hospitals are located in the major cities of Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Kuopio, and Oulu. All these five cities have a medical faculty.
The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL, in Finnish: Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos) is a research and development institute that functions as a statutory statistical expert authority for health and welfare in Finland. THL functions in health and welfare promotion, in prevention of disease and social problems, e.g. ensuring vaccine supplies and monitoring their quality, and in development of social and health services. It is publicly funded organization under the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. 
The health care system receives funding from two sources. Municipal financing is based on taxes and is used to provide primary health care services. They also have a right to collect user fees, and receive state subsidies if their tax levy is not adequate for providing the public services required, based on the demographic factors on their area. Municipalities fund the health centers on the primary care level and regional hospitals on secondary care level. As municipalities are both the providers and purchasers of the health services it does not encourage for cost-efficiency. National Health Insurance (NHI) is based on compulsory fees and it is used to fund private health care, occupational health care, outpatient drugs and sickness allowance. Regional and university hospitals are financed by federations of participating municipalities, often using the diagnosis-related group system.
The out-of-pocket fee amount for a doctor's visit or treatment in the primary health care is set at a maximum of EUR 13.70 (in 2010) and the amount varies from one local authority to another. Hospital out-patients pay EUR 27.40 per consultation; in-patients pay a per diem charge of EUR 32.50. For long-term illnesses, the charges are based largely on income. Although a vital part for health financing and provision, the current system of the user fees has been discussed to contribute to the inequities in the access of health services among the low-income residents.
Health expenditure in 2009 amounted to EUR 15.7 billion. The public sector is the main source of health funding, 74.7% of health spending was funded by public sources in 2009, slightly more than the average of 71.7% in OECD countries. The share of public spending in Finland was, however, lower than in all other Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) where it exceeds 80%. As in other OECD countries the health expenditure has been growing steadily since the year 2000. In 2009 health spending per capita in Finland is equal to the OECD average, with spending of EUR 2936 (or USD 3226 adjusted for purchasing power parity). Municipalities spent on average about 1300 euros per inhabitant on health care in 2005. Health care accounted for about 25% of the municipal budget.
In a comparison of 16 countries on 2008 by Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, Finland used the least resources and attained average results, making Finland the most efficient public sector health service producer according to the study's authors. One of the possible explanations for the low total health care expenditure in Finland is the low salary of health care professionals, especially that of nurses.
Due to the comprehensive public sector, private health care sector is relatively small. Between 3-4% of in-patient care is provided by the private health care system. Physiotherapy, dentistry and occupational health services are the most often used health services on the private sector. Approximately 10% of medical doctors work solely on private sector. Although high user fees may cause a barrier to use the private sector services as most is paid for out of pocket, a significant share of the cost is reimbursed by the Social Insurance Institution (SII) KELA.
Employers are obliged by law to provide occupational health care services for their employees, as are educational establishments for their students and staff. This can be done on public, or private sector.
National health insurance
The statutory National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme covers all Finnish residents, and it is run by the Social Insurance Institution (SII) through approximately 260 local offices all over the country. The responsibilities of this institute include coverage of some family benefits, National Health Insurance, rehabilitation, basic unemployment security, housing benefits, financial aid for students and state-guaranteed pensions. The NHI system offers varying levels of reimbursement for outpatient drugs, care from private providers, transport costs to health care facilities, sickness and maternity leave allowances, and some rehabilitation services. The NHI also partially reimburses occupational health care costs for services delivered to employees, but not to dependents.
Outpatient pharmaceuticals, including over-the-counter drugs, can only be sold to patients by pharmacies. Providers can only deliver drugs that are actually administered within their facilities. Health centers can give outpatient drugs to patients when local pharmacies are closed, but only in the dosage needed to cover the time until the pharmacy reopens. Finland limits medicine sales to about 800 licensed pharmacies.
Health information technology
Electronic Patient Records (EPR) have been in used since 2007 virtually in every health care provider. The development of health information systems has been largely uncoordinated at the national level, partly due to the decentralized health care system. As a result, several non-interoperable information systems are often used even within a single health care organization, which inhibits information exchange within and across provider organizations. Efforts are underway to create a common, national structure for communication between patients and providers over the internet.
The Finnish Office for Health Technology Assessment FinOHTA is an independent, public assessment agency working as a part of National Institute for Health and Welfare since 1995. The aim is to assist decision-making by supplying information that is of a high scientific standard. The service is for all professional groups in health care, political decision-makers and the general public. Another main aim of for this office is for foreign results to be appraised in local conditions and their applicability in Finland is evaluated. FinOHTA is a member of INAHTA, the International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment. FinOHTA also participates to the EUnetHTA project.
Immigrant health care
As per to the principle of the universal health care coverage immigrants who live in Finland permanently are entitled to all the same health services as the Finnish people. Holders of the European Health Insurance Card are also entitled for care in Finland. According to the Act on Adaptation of Immigrants and Reception of Asylum Seekers, asylum seekers are entitled to the same health services as permanent residents. These services must be organized by reception centres for refugees. It has been reported that immigrant health problems often may go untreated, and that immigrants use the public health system less than the general population. Health information to immigrants are provided with several languages by Infopankki.fi.
On December 9, 2013 the City of Helsinki decided, that all minors under the age of 18 and all pregnant mothers living in Helsinki without a valid visa or residence permit, are granted the right to the same health care and at the same price as all citizens of the city. This service will be available sometime early year 2014. Volunteer doctors of Global Clinic have tried to help these people, for whom only acute care has been available. This means that the Finnish health care system is open for people coming outside of the European Union. The service covers special child health care, maternity clinics and specialist medical care etc. practically for free. It is still unclear if this will increase so called health care tourism, because all you have to do is come to Helsinki as a tourist and let the visa expire.
Equity is highly valued in Finland and the law provides same rights for all citizens, including in health care. There still exists some geographic and socioeconomic disparities in health care. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for the socioeconomic differences in the use of services is that the private sector and occupational health care, which are less accessible to the low-income population, offer better access to services (e.g. a major difference is waiting times) than the municipal sector. Narrowing health gaps has been the objective of Finnish health policy since the 1980s, however, this objective has not been fully achieved.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Healthcare in Finland.|
- Lazaret Museum (in Finnish)
- The History of Seili University of Turku
- National Institute for Health and Welfare
- Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
- Social welfare and health care strategies Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
- Legislation Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
- Health care in Finland, 2004 Ministry of Social Affairs and Health publication
- Benchmarking ICT use among General Practitioners in Europe European Commission, 2008. Final Report.