What’s your community’s current TB infection rate?

The ability to answer that question rapidly and accurately is at the crux of the fight to end the tuberculosis epidemic. It’s been almost a decade since the WHO recommended use of secure, self-contained electronic systems, but most public health departments still find themselves constrained to paper records.

This situation creates significant friction for local public health departments attempting to support the worldwide effort to stop TB. From polio to small pox, the successful elimination of disease epidemics has required two key parts: (1) systematic reporting of every case and (2) identification of disease clusters or “hotspots” at the local level.

The ability to satisfy these requirements quickly make it possible to document disease trends in communities and target resources to where they are needed most. Unfortunately, when data is collected on paper, reporting creates laborious strains on staff which can delay the timely analysis needed to inform real-time policy decisions which allow a community to reduce infection rates over time.

In their research paper, Data for action: Collecting and using local data to more effectively fight tuberculosis, Grant Theron, Ph.D., et. al. explain that when data can be rapidly analyzed and incorporated into policy, results can be dramatic. For example, they say, “in 2008 the Lesotho TB program found that >90% of patients diagnosed with TB were HIV seropositive. The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Médecins Sans Frontières, rapidly scaled up and integrated decentralized TB/HIV care in response. As a result, the number of adults on antiretroviral therapy in the program doubled over four years, and the incidence of HIV-positive TB decreased by approximately 40%.”

Transitioning to electronic systems supports not only this kind of progress but creates other benefits as well. With paper forms, public health departments must invest heavily in fulfilling their responsibility to manage and monitor information; the transition to an electronic health record like ezEMRx significantly reduces the time needed to document, consolidate and report that data. Since caregivers enter data one time and it automatically populates each subsequent record, documenting as a task is virtually eliminated.

Staff can complete the task of transmitting daily results to CDC and NEDSS in minutes, freeing them up to spend more time managing patients. Nurses can spend more time operating at the top of their license, rather than diluting their skill and using valuable time to manage documentation.

And when it’s time to furnish answers around community infection rates, the answer can be produced in a few clicks instead of requiring labor-intensive collation of paper reports and daily manual tallying of results.

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