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Thursday, 09 April 2020 11:51

Call for move to district reporting of COVID-19

Written by  David Anderson
University of Otago Associate Dean Rural Garry Nixon. University of Otago Associate Dean Rural Garry Nixon.

Rural health academics support calls from other rural leaders for more localised reporting of COVID-19 test results.

They believe this will help rural healthcare providers better care for their communities.

University of Otago Associate Dean Rural Garry Nixon and University of Waikato Professor of Population Health Ross Lawrenson are concerned the current system of reporting COVID-19 test results does not enable a clear picture for rural health providers.  

They are advocating for a move to reporting cases by district council areas – as a minimum.

COVID-19 cases are currently being reported by District Health Board areas.  Some DHBs, particularly those with significant rural populations cover large geographical areas.

Nixon, a rural hospital specialist at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde, explains that unless a cluster is reported, it is not possible to tell in what part of these large regions’ cases are concentrated.

“This means a rural hospital or service has no way of knowing how many patients in their area are likely to deteriorate and need further medical care in coming days,” he says.

“The pandemic demands a response at all levels, including by rural and remote communities and their services. Good data will support this response.”

Lawrenson, a public health physician and board member of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, says they would prefer that results were reported on a regional level within DHBs.

“Reporting data on COVID-19 cases for smaller regions will make it easier for communities to understand their risk and for rural health providers and other community services to plan their response to the pandemic.”

Some DHBs have started to report cases by district council area, a move the pair is in favour of.

Nixon says New Zealand lacks a recognised system for reporting rural health data – something both he and Professor Lawrenson have highlighted in research in recent years.

“The current pandemic highlights this deficiency in the national health intelligence system.”

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