Rights and status of patients

Patients have rights granted by laws, including the right to good health care and medical care and related treatment, the right to be cared in mutual understanding between the health care personnel and patient, the right to be informed, the right to confidentiality of information and the right to contact the patient ombudsman. Other patient rights include the right to access treatment, the right to seek non-urgent care from a health care service provider of their choice and the right to submit an objection and complaint.

Patients must be treated by respecting their beliefs and privacy and in a way that does not violate their dignity. The mother tongue, individual needs and culture of patients have to be taken into account as far as possible in their care and other treatment. The provision of health care services must be based on equal treatment of patients – unequal treatment due to age, health or disability is not allowed. 

Care must be provided in mutual understanding between the health care personnel and the patient, and patients may not be forced to consent to treatment. Patients have the right to refuse treatment, but even then alternative treatments and the consequences of refusing treatment must be discussed with them.

Rights of patients

Patients must have access to adequate health care regardless of their municipality of residence. Every patient has the right to be seen for non-urgent care at health centres and hospitals within the timeframes specified in law if the need to see a health professional has been established during the first phone consultation, at a previous appointment or by reviewing the patient referral letter. The need for care is always evaluated by a health care professional. From Monday to Friday, health centres must be immediately reachable by phone or accept walk-in patients during their opening hours.

Everyone has the right to seek emergency health care in the emergency or urgent care department of health centres or hospitals regardless of their municipality of residence.

A health care professional treating a patient must, on their own initiative, tell the patient or their next of kin about every aspect of their care that may influence the decisions on the patient’s care. Health care professionals must explain different treatment options and the effects of treatments, including any side effects, to the patient. Patients have the right to obtain information about the treatment plan and estimated costs of extensive and expensive medical treatments. This information can be provided verbally, but patients may also request the information in writing.

Patients have the right to check the data concerning themselves in patient documents. A written request to access data must be submitted to the unit where the patient was being treated, after which the patient is given copies of their patient documents. The patient documents must be marked accordingly if copies of the documents are given for the patient to see. If necessary, a health care professional will go through the patient documents together with the patient and their next of kin to discuss what has been recorded in the documents. If a health care unit does not provide copies of patient documents despite being requested to do so, the unit must present reasons for the refusal in a written response, and the patient documents must be marked accordingly. 

Information must be provided in a way that allows the patient to gain a good understanding of the contents of their patient documents. If a health care professional does not speak the language used by the patient or if the patient is difficult to understand due to a speech impediment or other sensory or communication disorder, interpretation must be provided where possible. 

Patients have the right to check all the details that have been recorded about them in patient documents. If the patient sees that their documents contain inaccurate data, they have the right to make a request for rectification.

Health care documents are confidential. Patients have the right to know what their records are used for.

Patients have the right to choose to be seen for medical treatment in a health care unit outside of their municipality or region of residence. As a general rule, the units can be switched for a year at a time and the new unit must be notified of the switch in writing. The responsibility for providing health care services is transferred to the health centre of the patient’s choice at the latest within three weeks of the arrival of the notification. A person can choose to be seen only in one health centre and health station at a time. In a situation like this, all services provided to the patient by other heath stations are transferred to the new unit.

The right to choose a health care provider does not apply to school and student heath care services or long-term inpatient care. Municipalities are not obligated to provide home care services to patients outside of their operating area.

If a doctor or dentist sees that a person needs specialist health care, the person may choose the public specialist health care unit where they want to be treated. The health care service provider must be chosen in mutual understanding between the referring doctor or dentist and the patient.

Patients may choose the licenced health care professional they want to be treated by in the health care unit. The choice may be made within the limits allowed by the appropriate provision of health care services. Patients requiring follow-up care must be referred to the doctor or dentist who provided the initial care as far as practically possible within appropriate limits.

If you are dissatisfied with the health care service you have received or you need advice on your rights and obligations as a patient, you should primarily contact the patient ombudsman of the wellbeing services county. The patient ombudsman of the wellbeing services county serves both public and private health care patients. 

Since 1 January 2024, private health care has no longer had a separate patient ombudsman, and the patient ombudsman of the wellbeing services county will also address private health care matters. 

The patient ombudsman offers advice on legal protection. The patient ombudsman will not comment on a patient’s diagnosis or the content of their treatment. The patient ombudsman will also not comment on whether medical malpractice has occurred in your treatment. You can ask the patient ombudsman for advice on matters such as submitting an objection concerning health services. The contact details of the patient ombudsman of your wellbeing services county are available from the wellbeing services county’s telephone exchange and website. The task of the patient ombudsman is statutory, impartial and free of charge.

The statutory tasks of the patient ombudsman are to:

  • offer patients advice in matters related to the application of the Act on the Status and Rights of Patients
  • offer customers advice and, if necessary, assist them or their legal representatives, family members or others close to them in submitting an objection
  • offer advice on how to initiate a complaint, a claim for rectification, an appeal, a claim for compensation for medical or pharmaceutical malpractice or other matter related to the patient’s legal protection with a competent authority
  • inform patients of their rights
  • collect information on patient contacts and monitor the development of patients’ rights and status
  • work in other ways to promote and exercise patients’ rights.

Frequently asked questions

If you are not satisfied with health care service you have received, you can file an objection with the unit that provided the service. You also have the right to file a complaint with your local Regional State Administrative Agency.