Patient and health system delays in the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in Southern Taiwan

C Y Chiang, C T Chang, R E Chang, C T Li, R M Huang
International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 2005, 9 (9): 1006-12

SETTING: Tainan city, Tainan county and 13 townships of Kaohsiung county, Southern Taiwan.

OBJECTIVE: To measure delays in the diagnosis and treatment of sputum-positive tuberculosis (TB) and to determine factors associated with delays in seeking health care (patient delay) and in starting anti-tuberculosis treatment (health system delay).

DESIGN: A population-based patient interview study.

RESULTS: Median patient delay was 7 days (range 0-730). Median health system delay was 23 days (range 0-489), 13 for smear-positive patients and 37 for smear-negative patients (P < 0.005). Median total delay was 44 days (range 0-730). Age <65 years was associated with longer patient delay. Negative smear, absence of haemoptysis, not having a chest radiograph at the first medical consultation and visiting clinics for first consultation were associated with a longer health system delay. Age <65 years, negative smear and cough as the only presenting symptom were associated with longer total delay.

CONCLUSION: Patient delay was substantially shorter than health system delay. To reduce health system delay, clinics need to be involved and the referral mechanism must be strengthened. Physicians should maintain high alert for TB and perform prompt sputum smear examinations.

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