As of the New Year, doctors will be obliged to use a new electronic sicknote system – or face fines of up to 10,000 crowns. But many general practitioners fear that the new and not-quite-paperless system will actually increase their administrative burden. Some are even threatening to boycott it.
The so-called e-sicknote system aims to boost efficiency and transparency in the healthcare sector, as well as make it easier for employers to process sickness benefits data, says Robin Povšík, deputy minister of Labour and Social Affairs.
“Information that an employee has been diagnosed by a doctor as being unfit to work should arrive at the employer within minutes at most. It will not matter whether the surgery is in Ostrava or on the other end of the country in Aš.”
Doctors complain they have not been able to try out the system apart from within a Czech Social Security Administration test environment. Many who have tried it are nonplussed, says Dr Cyril Mucha, a Prague general practitioner.
“Imagine there are several people who are running a fever sitting in the waiting room. Are we going to be playing around with a system that more or less works? So, what is the priority? The patients. Even if they impose a fine, for us the patients are the priority.”
Svatopluk Býma, head of the Society of General Medicine, is among those who predict doctors will continue to issue purely paper sicknotes for many months to come.
“If it takes longer to process the new sicknotes than it did on paper, we will not use the system. We will not waste time on the computer when we could be seeing patients.”
Robin Povšík of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs says he thinks doctors will soon come around to the new system.
“We were also given very little time to prepare the entire system. But with all due respect, it’s just a matter of a few steps, a few clicks on the computer. The test run shows that it will work well. The system is quite user-friendly.”
That may well be, says Petr Šonka, chairman of the Association of General Practitioners, but for now, it is not saving doctors any time as it is actually a hybrid system. Doctors must send an e-sicknote to both the Czech Social Security Administration and the patient’s employer and give the patient a copy – on paper – Dr Šonka says.
“We have to prepare it electronically and then record it manually. We think it's unnecessary. What bothers us most is that we have to do it by hand on the paper.”
Plans are to phaseout elements of the paper system entirely, but first the legislation must be changed to allow it. Meanwhile, the government is refusing doctors’ demands to compensate the time spent on preparing the e-sicknotes. But the Ministry of Health is looking at a grace period for doctors struggling to adapt.