Use of faxes blamed for delays in Coronavirus test results | Daily News


 

Use of faxes blamed for delays in Coronavirus test results

After several days of record setting numbers of new coronavirus cases, the Austin area saw a big drop on Monday. It might seem like good news, but Austin Public Health says it’s actually a sign of another problem.

“I am stunned to hear that the way we are getting the results of the tests on infections is by fax. That’s like a third world technology. Most young people don’t even know what a fax machine is anymore,” said Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea.

On Tuesday, Austin Public Health gave Travis County Commissioners a briefing on COVID-19. Shea said she can’t believe people are waiting longer to find out if they have coronavirus because the results of nasal swab tests are being faxed.

“It’s archaic,” said Shea. “It is so crude I am horrified to hear this.”

The commissioner says labs should not be using technology that is not up to the job.

“This incredibly wasteful, stupid process of putting it on fax paper and faxing it to somebody so that they then have to manually enter it on a computer,” said Shea.

Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Health Authority for Austin Public Health, says he spent this past Sunday entering faxed test results into the data base. Even so, he says the drop in Monday’s numbers is partially a result of using an archaic method of compiling data.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have a week to 10 days between when a person is tested and when their case is entered in the system so they can be called,” said Dr. Escott.

Texas requires digital reporting of test results. Some labs comply but Dr. Escott says others have not made it a priority.

“Do we need to issue a court order to do this? I’m not sure,” said Dr. Escott.

Austin Public Health estimates it gets more than a thousand faxes a day with coronavirus test results. To get rid of the obsolete technology, Travis County Commissioners are investigating if they have the authority to throw the book at offenders. “Could you get our county attorney the names of those labs so we can look at enforcement actions if they’re not following a state order,” asked Shea during Dr. Escott’s briefing.

Austin Public Health is looking at a shift in strategy over the coming weeks that could keep faxed test results from slowing down notification to patients.


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