Posted By Dayna Riddle On March 1, 2023

How EHRs Help Public Health Win the War Against TB

TB EHR treatment

Your public health department is most likely very aware of Tuberculosis, or TB. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 1.6 million people died from TB in 2021 alone. They estimate one-fourth of the world’s population is thought to have the causative agent of TB (mycobacterium tuberculosis) and are at risk of developing the disease. 

Those who are infected with HIV, have a weakened immune system, or have an alcohol or substance use disorder have a higher risk of developing TB. These high-risk individuals may be in your community and may need additional resources to help them.

Public health departments assist in the war against TB by tracking cases, treating infected individuals, managing medication, and administering vaccines to prevent the spread. They can also assist by providing referrals for additional care coordination based upon behavioral health challenges, social determinants of health needs, etc. Using an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system specifically designed for public health departments can provide software solutions that help fight the battle against TB.

TB Testing through your EHR

Tracking individuals who are infected with TB is critical for your health department to slow the spread in their communities. Some EHRs have systems to document and track TB patients, both active and latent, by storing testing results and treatments.

Within a patient’s chart, some EHRs also allow your staff to upload lab, x-ray, and diagnostic testing results. Additionally, you can track the beginning and the end of infectious periods. 

In the past, public health departments relied exclusively on x-ray reporting, but a sputum collection should also be used for the most accurate diagnosis. EHRs can allow staff to import sputum collection information, like source (blood, stool, sputa, urine, etc.), submitting facility, smear results, and more from either in-house analyzed results or electronically transferred records from outside labs. 

Knowing where your patients may have been exposed to TB allows you to potentially trace where the infection started in your community and lets you know who else to notify that may be exposed. Some EHRs have contact tracing functionalities, like an epidemiological record sheet that allows your staff to record: 

  • The reason the patient was referred
  • Symptoms
  • HIV status
  • Foreign travel history
  • Alcohol and drug consumption
  • Job (important if they are a healthcare worker)
  • Imaging results
  • CT findings
  • If they are in jail/prison
  • History of family/residents in the home

…among others. 

If much of this information is already in the patient chart, some EHRs allow you to pull that data into the TB/LTBI episode of care without duplicate entry, saving your staff time and reducing the risk of errors. 

TB Treatment and Progress Plans

EHRs can also be beneficial for tailoring the workflow of clinical staff during treatment and progress planning. Healthcare providers can base their TB treatment plan on several factors, including pre-existing medical conditions and drug allergies. Some EHRs allow your staff to manage medications dispensed to patients as well as the intake methods and reactions of the medications.

Intake methods available could include Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) so that your staff can monitor if patients are taking their medication. These treatment observations are recorded in your EHR, and staff can mark for patient vomit, hold, partial dose, full dose, video observed, and more. Knowing the reactions to medications will help your staff choose the appropriate TB treatment method, and you can track which treatment they choose in your EHR. 

Once you have tested patients for TB through x-ray, sputum collection, or other methods, your EHR will help you transfer ownership of that record to the next healthcare professional that will assist in treatment. Some EHRs allow you to assign a TB case manager, MD, MA, or CDI. 

Interoperable solutions can assist you in sending or receiving referrals to and from other health organizations to allow patients to see the providers they need for treatment faster. This can reduce the time patients spend looking for other providers to help them be treated for TB and possibly spread the infection– instead, their records are quickly and easily transferred to the correct department.

Progress plans via flow sheets in the patient’s chart can help your staff keep a record of visit details, like menstrual period dates, steroids taken, and weight, among others. You can also mark if the patient needed an interpreter, ensuring that each patient is treated in a way they can understand

Patient Education About TB

A public health-focused EHR will allow your staff to store infographics, articles, or other resources that are helpful to educate your patients. Some even allow you to share these resources via email or text, or they can be printed out for your patients. EHRs with robust messaging capabilities allow you to select patients in select neighborhoods and send them resources based on their preferred communication method. 

Many patients don’t realize TB is spread is in actions we do every day, like speaking, coughing, or sneezing, or that those infected don’t always show signs immediately (or ever). The infected droplets can spread to anyone, especially those they are close to. 

Some confuse the symptoms of TB with other common sicknesses, and that could lead them to spread unknowingly to those they love. Educational resources will improve the quality of care as well as outcomes for the patients, in addition to reducing general community spread. 

Tuberculosis is often curable if treated, although there are strains that are not cured through standard medications, called multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). These cases require more intensive and lengthy treatments, which require more effort from public health departments. The battle against TB will continue, but public health departments, with the help of EHRs, can slow the spread, treat the infected, and educate community members.

Updated March 2023

Original author credit: Monique Dever, March 29, 2017

About Patagonia Health, Inc.

Patagonia Health’s integrated EHR, Practice Management, and Billing solution is designed to improve departmental workflows using apps and cloud-based technology. Our company was founded with a focus on providing technology solutions with highly referenceable customer service. We collaborate with public and behavioral health organizations to develop advanced features,  empowering them to improve the well-being of their communities. Our federally-certified software enables our customers to achieve their desired health outcomes. We serve those who serve others. If you’d like more information about our solutions, contact us today.

About Dayna Riddle

Dayna is a marketing associate at Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company serving Public and Behavioral Health departments across the United States. She creates content, manages social media, and assists in marketing strategies, while supporting her efforts with a passion for health.