Experts seek infectious diseases database

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 June, 2003, 12:00am

Information must come from various sources and all doctors should have access, they say

Hong Kong must end its culture of information black-outs to build a vast central infectious diseases database linking all its doctors to tackle future outbreaks, medical experts said yesterday.

Vital data should come from various sources, including the Department of Health, the Hospital Authority and private and public medical practitioners and should also take into account information such as media reports and rumours, said Anthony Hedley, community medicine chairman at the University of Hong Kong.

'I think an information system, to be trusted fully, needs to gather information from many sources,' he said. 'We need good information in order to achieve good management of the Sars outbreak and other communicable diseases.'

Medical practitioners are required by law to report notifiable diseases, including chicken pox and tuberculosis, to the Department of Health. But there is no sharing of medical information with all practitioners. The department also does not track useful medical information, such as the kinds of drugs used and a patient's reaction to them.

With the Sars outbreak, the department created e-Sars, a computerised system that recorded basic information about all Sars patients, including their age and sex. The problem is that it can only be accessed by those in the department or Hospital Authority, which includes all public hospitals. Private physicians contribute data but cannot access it.

The government got $78 million in funding two years ago to create the Public Health Information System to store data about the mortality and hospital admission rates, disease incidence and prevalence and health-care expenditure. A department spokeswoman said it was in stage one of the three-part system.

Kwok Ka-ki, convenor of the Action Group on Medical Policy, an independent think-tank, said: 'We have found with Sars and infectious diseases, doctors working in different hospitals may not know what's happening in other hospitals. So for medical practitioners, no matter if they are private or public, most of the information they get is, ridiculously, from the media.'

Dr Kwok and other medical representatives agree that a centralised information hub is needed. 'I've wanted to push this forward for a long time,' said legislator Lo Wing-lok, who is also Hong Kong Medical Association president.

But Leung Ka-lau, president of the Public Doctors Association, said issues to consider before moving ahead included patients' privacy rights, security, intellectual property and the enforcement of data entry. He said information gathering should be expanded to include other diseases, such as cancer.

The University of Hong Kong, with Imperial College, University of London, was commissioned by the government to create an extensive database on Sars. It used data from the Hospital Authority, the Department of Health and interviews with patients.

Online tribute to medic - C3