Reporting reminder for doctors

Doctor have been reminded about their legal duty to report suspected notifiable diseases in order to help health services respond to possible disease outbreaks.

In its latest newsletter, the New Zealand Medical Council said public health units around the country had reported cases of doctors who did not know about, or perhaps did not respect their legal duty to report, notifiable diseases on suspicion.

It seemed some did not know all the diseases against which children were routinely vaccinated were notifiable.

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr John Holmes said "by and large" doctors in Otago and Southland were very good at meeting their obligations in this regard.

Occasionally, there were people who, for a variety of reasons, delayed or forgot to notify suspected cases. They needed to be aware they should notify once they suspected a disease, not wait for laboratory results to confirm their diagnosis.

Once results came through, if they did not support the initial diagnosis, the records were altered to show that.

The medical council article suggested part of the problem could involve doctors from countries where measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases remained endemic who did not realise the situation was different in New Zealand.

Ministry of Health director of public health Mark Jacobs said the ministry fully supported the council's reminder. It was the same sort of message the ministry and district health board public health units had been promoting.

"General reminders such as this one from the Medical Council are useful in reinforcing this, but where public health units are aware of gaps in reporting they also follow this up with individual practices." The notification system was further strengthened a few years ago by the introduction of an additional requirement for pathology laboratories to report positive lab results for these diseases.

"Disease notification is not an exercise in statistics-gathering - it allows us to respond to cases of these diseases of public health importance, to reduce the risk of spread."

The council newsletter also cautioned against creating needless concern when a possible diagnosis of a notifiable disease was conveyed to a school or early childhood centre.

Dr Holmes agreed this could cause anxiety. Doctors and other health professionals such as nurses and pharmacists needed to be "very careful" patients did not get the idea possible diagnoses were confirmed as diseases.

The council said notification of diseases where urgent public health action was required should, if possible, be by telephone, even out of hours.


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