Patient and health care system delays in the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis

L F Sherman, P I Fujiwara, S V Cook, L B Bazerman, T R Frieden
International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 1999, 3 (12): 1088-95

SETTING: All culture-positive tuberculosis patients without previous treatment for tuberculosis (n = 184), New York City, April 1994.

OBJECTIVE: To examine factors associated with delays in presenting to a health care provider (patient delay) and in starting antituberculosis treatment (health care system delay).

DESIGN: Retrospective medical record review and patient interviews.

RESULTS: Median total delay was 57 days (range 4-764), 35 for acid-fast bacilli smear-positive patients and 79 for smear-negative patients (P < 0.001). Median patient delay was 25 (range 0-731). Median health care system delay was 15 days, 6 for smear-positive patients and 31 for smear-negative patients (P < 0.001). In logistic regression, age 55-64 years (adjusted odds ratio [OR(adj)] 10.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.3-86.9), and primary language other than English (OR(adj) 2.5, 95%CI 1.0-5.8), were associated with longer patient delays. Homelessness (OR(adj) 7.1, 95%CI 1.05-33.5), not having a chest radiograph at the first medical visit (OR(adj) 2.4, 95%CI 1.0-5.4), negative smear (OR(adj) 10.2, 95%CI 4.4-23.3) and absence of cough (OR(adj) 2.9, 95%CI 1.2-6.8) were associated with longer health care system delays.

CONCLUSION: To reduce delays, patients should be educated to seek care more quickly, and should be provided with culturally appropriate health care and language services. Physicians should maintain a high index of suspicion for tuberculosis and perform appropriate diagnostic tests.

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