Iceland’s Doctors Drowning in Paperwork

Iceland’s Minister of Health will meet with the chair of the Icelandic Association of Family Doctors to discuss doctors’ criticism of excessive paperwork cutting into their time with patients. Doctors sent the Minister a list of demands last month and have now been invited to a meeting tomorrow.

“This means of course that the minister is listening to what we are asking of him,” Margrét Ólafía Tómasdóttir told RÚV, though she said she is keeping her expectations in check. “We’ve previously gotten to speak with the minister about these issues back and forth without anything changing.”

Preventing doctor burnout urgent

Margrét says doctors have been discussing the issue of excessive paperwork, particularly referrals, that are required within the healthcare system since 2016, but no administrative changes have been made. “It is clear that it’s first and foremost the paperwork that is wearing down doctors, not interaction with patients.”

Margrét says doctors want to eliminate all referrals and paperwork that “does not involve a true doctors’ professional assessment.” Doctors in Iceland are often required to write referrals for patients so they can see other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, speech pathologists, and others, or so that their appointments with specialists are covered by health insurance.

System demands referrals and certificates

GP Indriði Einar Reynisson recently wrote about the various certificates and referrals he is regularly asked to provide in a public Facebook post. Indriði stated that schools and workplaces sometimes require multiple doctor’s certificates from students and employees for the same illness. He also stated that the Social Insurance Administration (Tryggingastofnun, or TR) often required patients to send renewed doctor’s certificates every two months, although their situation was unchanged. In the case of one disabled patient, Indriði was required to send separate certificates confirming the patients’ status to over six different institutions.

Iceland Review has regularly reported on Iceland’s shortage of doctors as well as other healthcare professionals. Margrét says that patient interactions are what provide doctors with fulfilment on the job, “But when the majority of the working day becomes meaningless paperwork where your professional knowledge doesn’t get to be used, it must burn you out and cause people to leave the profession.”

“Farmers Are Drowning in Data”

icelandic cows

Technology is playing an increasingly large role in the Icelandic farming and agriculture landscape, RÚV reports. According to Sigtryggur Veigar Herbertsson, a consultant with the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre (RML), farmers around the country have already started making use of such technological innovations as automated milking machines, GPS trackers on sheep, and self-driving tractors. Automated feeding machines have also started making an appearance in barns around the country.

Technologies such as GPS water management systems are becoming increasingly important to farmers as they deal with climate change and its consequences, such as drought, Sigtryggur says. But while there is a comparatively high proportion of technologies such as automated milking machines in use in Iceland, says Sigtryggur, Icelandic farmers still “…lag a little behind in drone and soil cultivation technology.” There are companies in Iceland that use drones to detect and map vegetation around the country, but this technology has not yet been used for agricultural purposes in Iceland. By contrast, in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, drones are often used to map out routes for self-driving tractors and to spread different quantities of fertiliser according to the needs of various crops.

The technological devices that are already in use in Iceland are also collecting enormous amounts of data that has yet to be fully exploited by farmers. This data could potentially be of use in improving agriculture practices says Sigtryggur, but as of yet, it has proven difficult for farmers to parse effectively. “Farmers are drowning in data,” he remarked, explaining that RML is in the process of going through this excess of information. Much of it comes from milking machines, says Sigtryggur, and he’s hopeful that this wealth of information can be made usable for farmers in the near future.