CHENNAI: Come August, civic bodies in the state can no longer throw a cloak over an outbreak as the government readies a software that will require hospitals to upload patients’ details online.
As part of the initiative, hospitals in 12 corporations will have to notify the government, if patients walk in complaining of fever, diarrhoea, jaundice or encephalitis, even before an infectious disease is confirmed. Subsequent reports should also be uploaded online. This, officials say, will not give them an early warning of outbreaks and do away with underreporting by civic bodies.
Public health officials are in the process of mapping hospitals. At present, 2,972 of all the hospitals and labs in the state have been asked to intimate the health department on a daily basis if they receive patients with symptoms of infections that are epidemic prone. Of this, approximately one-third are located within the limits of these corporations, said director of public health K Kolandaisamy. While bigger hospitals notify the health department, health officials manually collect data from smaller ones. “There is at least a 24-hour lapse before we get a patient’s details and this is conveyed to the health inspector on the field to take action,” said Kolandaisamy. In the new system, the health inspector will receive an SMS the minute a hospital feeds a patient’s particulars. At least 23 ailments, including cholera, dengue and typhoid, have been declared as notifiable diseases. Through the online notification system, officials hope to pick early signs of diseases like dengue, typhoid, chikungunya, leptospirosis and H1N1 flu.
The system will also ensure cross notification. For example, a health inspector in Virudhunagar will receive an alert if a patient from his or her jurisdiction is admitted to a hospital in Madurai. Undiagnosed and mistreated cases are often cited as reasons that push infections to epidemic proportions in the state. While access to patient details will be restricted to officials and hospitals, public will be able to view overall infection hotspots in the state.
Private hospitals in the city have welcome the initiative, saying they are often harassed by corporation officials, especially when there is an outbreak of dengue. “They refuse to believe our lab results and discredit us. So we just keep sending them figures,” he said. Public health officials, on the other hand say one of the main challenges for surveillance of infectious diseases is lack of reporting from the private healthcare sector, which delivers healthcare to close to 60% of the population.
S K Roy, former secretary general of Indian Public Health Association, said other states could also follow Tamil Nadu’s initiative as it would also ensure standardisation of lab tests. “In the long-run it could check indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics as the portal bares the entire treatment process,” he said.