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Health care clients have to be encountered as individuals

Published on 5.5.2020
Tampere University of Applied Sciences
The Finnish health care system with its special health care units, health centres, dental health care and child health and maternity clinics is often taken for granted but it is not always so easy to understand the system. It may be especially difficult for immigrants. Now in the corona situation, it is even more important to find the right address for different health care needs.

Lack of information and difficulties in understanding the system parts and their responsibilities may lead to disadvantageous situations as regards the health care system, its professionals and immigrants who need the services. In Tampere this was understood a couple of years ago.

"Health care informed us that immigrants had difficulties in knowing the right address for different types of illnesses. They did not know when to go to TAYS Emergency Department Acuta and when to go to their health centre. They often went to Acuta even if they did not need urgent treatment,” tells Senior Lecturer Nina Smolander from TAMK’s School of Health.

More information and understanding

The situation was frustrating to both immigrants and health care professionals and something had to be done about it. The Immigrants as Clients in Health Care Services (MATEAS) project was started. Tampere University Hospital, the City of Tampere and Federation of Tampere Evangelical Lutheran Parishes participated in the project coordinated by Tampere University of Applied Sciences. The project ended in early 2020.

“We collected a lot of information on where the bottlenecks are and why immigrants find it difficult to adapt to the Finnish health care system. Based on the work, we organised education and produced education materials to immigrants, health care professionals and the third sector,” tells Smolander, who was the health services expert of the MATEAS project.

Materials and videos produced during the project are available and they have an important role in disseminating information on the Finnish health care system. The videos on the Finnish health care system have been in great demand. There is a simplified Finnish and English version of each video but there are also versions in Dari, Arabic, Somali and Persian, which are the four most common native languages among immigrants.

“It is important that the videos are available in many languages. In this way, it is possible to present the Finnish health care system to those who do not have sufficient language skills or even literacy for watching the Finnish and English videos,” explains Project Manager Helena Tirronen from TAMK.

“The videos also make it possible to learn related vocabulary in Finnish as there are versions which are spoken and subtitled in simplified Finnish,” adds Smolander.

Corona crisis increases the importance of information

Now in spring 2020 when the corona crisis is tormenting Finland and the whole world, it is even more important and topical to disseminate right information on health care. At the moment, information on corona is disseminated in many languages through the City of Tampere, Migration Info Centre Mainio and the national and sites.

“Even if the corona situation in the Tampere Region is under control, the virus may still spread and information has an important role in preventing it. Immigrants are in a vulnerable position. The MATEAS project with its networks and materials is a good channel for finding necessary basic information also during the corona crisis,” emphasises Tirronen.

Thanks to the MATEAS project, the Tampere Region has a large number of health care professionals and third-sector employees who can better encounter people with different cultural backgrounds. It also helps in disseminating corona information.

All are individuals but change is made together

The starting point of the MATEAS project was to increase immigrants’ understanding and knowledge of the Finnish health care system and their right to have treatment but also to increase health care professionals’ and third-sector employees’ knowledge of working with people with different cultural and language backgrounds.

“In health care services, all are individuals and they also have to be encountered as individuals in all situations regardless of the language and cultural differences. This key idea was one of the most important bases for cooperation in the MATEAS project,” Smolander reminds.

The educations and materials of the MATEAS project succeeded in increasing not only understanding and but also trust. In workshops, people were very grateful that work was done to ensure that all receive equal health care services.

“The whole MATEAS project can be summarised into the sentence ”Let’s do together”.  We all can tell how we do things and make a better society for all of us,” both experts summarise the insights of the MATEAS project.


The three-year MATEAS project, which ended in January 2020, was funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund AMIF and self-financed shares of the project organisation.  The Federation of Tampere Evangelical Lutheran Parishes, City of Tampere and Tampere University Hospital participated in the project coordinated by TAMK.


Further information:


Helena Tirronen, RDI Services, Project Manager, Tampere University of Applied Sciences

helena.tirronen [at] (helena[dot]tirronen[at]tuni[dot]fi)


Nina Smolander, School of Health, Senior Lecturer, Tampere University of Applied Sciences

nina.smolander [at] (nina[dot]smolander[at]tuni[dot]fi)



Text: Helena Pekkarinen

Photo: The MATEAS project participated in implementing a discussion service for Tampere Evangelical Lutheran Parishes. Hannu Jukola