With millions of COVID-19 test results flooding in, many healthcare systems around the US are drowning in paperwork.
More than 3.4 million people have been confirmed to have caught the virus in the country — and that’s just those who tested positive. That kind of volume of tests comes with a massive uptick in paperwork as well.
Many health departments simply can’t keep up with all that data. Outdated analog data collection methods are compounding the issue, The New York Times reports, with gigantic stacks of faxed printouts piling up in offices.
“Picture the image of hundreds of faxes coming through, and the machine just shooting out paper,” Umair Shah, executive director at the Harris County Public Health department in Houston, told the Times.
“From an operational standpoint, it makes things incredibly difficult,” Shah added. “The data is moving slower than the disease.”
Harris county has been hit particularly hard, with 40,000 coronavirus cases so far.
The situation has gotten so far out of hand that Washington State had to call in 25 members of the National Guard just to assist with manual data entry, the Times reports.
Other tests are flooding in via phone lines, emails, and even snail mail, as healthcare workers desperately try to comply with strict digital privacy standards about healthcare data.
Inevitably, wires are being crossed, with reports being duplicated or ending up at the wrong department. And it can take up to two weeks to process and send out results of a COVID-19 test — far too long to be useful in any way, particularly for contact tracing purposes.
As many US states are experiencing record new daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, experts are worried that despite millions of tests, healthcare officials might never actually figure out what to do with all the data.
“The obsession with the number of tests obscures an important fundamental: What are we doing with all those tests?” Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NYT.