Photo: microbacterium tuberculosis under the microscope
Getting quick and accurate test
results is essential to combat
tuberculosis; © Phil

For patients who have drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, it is critical to monitor the disease as closely as possible. That means monthly testing throughout a two-year course of powerful antibiotics.

Keeping track of all those test results can be very time-consuming, especially in developing countries where health workers rely on paper copies. That is why graduate student Joaquin Blaya decided to try out a new tracking method: personal digital assistants.

In a project launched in Lima, Peru, the researchers found that equipping health care workers with PDAs to record data dropped the average time for patients' test results to reach their doctors from 23 days to eight days. "You can monitor patients in a more timely way. It also prevents results from getting lost," says Blaya. Blaya started the project after taking a year off during his graduate studies to return to Chile, where he was born.

Under the old patient tracking system, a team of four healthcare workers would visit more than 100 health care centres and labs twice a week to record patient test results on paper sheets. A couple of times a week, they returned to their main office to transcribe those results onto two sets of forms per patient — one for the doctors and one for the health care administrators.

From start to finish, that process took an average of more than three weeks per patient. In some extreme cases, results were temporarily misplaced and could take up to three months to be recorded. There was also greater potential for error because information was copied by hand.

With the new system, health care workers enter the entire lab data into their handheld devices, using medical software designed for this purpose. When the workers return to their office, they connect the PDAs with their computers.

The new system dramatically dropped the average time to record results to eight days, and eliminated the few cases where results went missing. Getting timely and accurate lab results "is essential to determine if a patient is responding to treatment and, if not, to alert physicians to the possible need for medication changes," the researchers wrote.

COMPAMED.de; Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology