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Covid-19 cases tracked through faxes

Thursday, June 25, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Cases of Covid-19 continue to climb in Travis County. Austin’s interim medical authority, Dr. Mark Escott, told the Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday that part of the difficulty in tracking that increase is the process being employed. Austin Public Health employees must sift through faxes from testing labs and enter the data into the system before they are able to contact the person to whom the data corresponds. Dr. Escott told commissioners that sometimes the team sorts through 1,000 faxes a day. He spent most of the day Sunday personally sorting through new documents to enter them into the system so that public health staffers can contact people who have tested positive and begin contact tracing. “I am stunned to hear that the way we are getting the results of tests on infections is on fax,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea, who likened this communication method to “getting this on stone tablets that are chiseled.” Dr. Escott acknowledged that this manual form of data entry is causing a backlog and taking staff seven to 10 days to enter the results into the system. That elongated timeline, he explained, makes contact tracing difficult and increases the chance of further spread. Shea asked for a list of labs that are sending testing data via fax in order to contact them and encourage digital filing. In fact, because of HIPAA regulations and difficulty in sharing information across compliant platforms, faxes continue to be used in the health care industry long after the technology has become obsolete in other sectors.

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