Plans to allow Estonians to set up appointments and for doctors to prescribe medicines online have slowed because of problems connecting old and new systems, the minister of social affairs has announced.

The €2.2m EU-funded project, which has been developed by the Estonian e-Health Foundation, aims to provide patients with a cross-country e-registration system that lists all the doctors and health services in Estonia.

This will enable them to choose the service that is most convenient. It will also provide patient information exchange for doctors.

Margit Loikmaa, communication specialist for Estonian e-Health Foundation said: “Launching the system has not been as fast as we were expected in the beginning of this year, but the number of users is on stable growth.”

The Foundation now hopes that the system will be rolled-out gradually over the next 12 months but says “only time will tell how things will work out.”

The cross-country registration system is part of a wider e-health project that covers digital health history, digital prescription system, and e-registration system announced by the Estonian government last year.

The digital prescription medical programme will be launched in January 2010 with a two month transition period until all prescriptions will have to be processed digitally in March.

However, there have also been reports that the doctors are not ready to apply the system in full because of health care budget cuts, technical difficulties with installing the system, and fears that it has not been tested enough.

Minister of the social affairs, Hanno Pevkur, told the daily Eesti Päevaleht Pevkur in Estonia that one of the reasons for the poor use of the system is because the current system is hard to connect with the new one.

“The system is working, but we have to make sure that the service providers would join it. The motivation should come from the patients, if there were no problems with IT-development, everything would be fine, but in general everything is moving in the right direction. Also the excessive state budget cuts have been depressing the process,” said.

Estonia’s national e-health strategy calls for the full implementation of these programmes by 2013.