Family doctors team up to find "hidden" coronavirus patients
General practitioners in the Netherlands are teaming up to map out the "hidden" cases of coronavirus - patients who very likely became seriously ill or died of Covid-19, but were never officially tested. On Tuesday the GP departments of the Dutch universities are launching a research project to register this data, which is currently not included in the official statistics, the Volkskrant reports.
Coronavirus testing is currently focused mainly on hospitals and intensive care, project leader Jochen Cals, GP and professor of effective diagnostics in Maastricht, said to the newspaper. "But GPs often come into contact with vulnerable patients, in the nursing home or at home, with a strong suspicion that they have Covid-19. That overview is still lacking." This involves patients who often, in consultation with doctors and family, refrain from hospitalization and die at home or in their nursing home. It also happens that one or two nursing home residents test positive for the coronavirus, after which other residents who develop symptoms are not officially tested.
From Tuesday, family doctors in the Netherlands can register these patients using ZorgDomein, the existing system for the exchange of medical data currently used for referrals to specialists, among other things. More than 90 percent of the profession already use ZorgDomein, according to Cals. GPs will report Covid-19 patients with serious symptoms or deaths, adding whether the patient was officially tested or whether there was a "strong clinical suspicion" of the virus. Patients' privacy will be protected. The only details GPs will register are the first two digits of the patient's postal code - for geographical estimates - the patient's age and sex, and what treatment they received.
And as most all GPs are familiar with ZorgDomein, the extra administrative burden will be limited. "Five clicks per patient," Cals said.
The main obstacle for the success of this project is that GPs will have to participate en masse. But Cals is confident that they will. "GPs are a medical hub, who have contact with an extraordinary number of patients. There are 5 thousand practices in the Netherlands. They are eager to share any information they have about the virus. Not only to get a better picture of the pandemic, but also to give patients who have been invisible so far a place in the figures."
The first results are expected around April 20th.
Public health institute RIVM, which keeps track of the officially-tested patient statistics, is positive about this project. "We know it's an estimate," a spokesperson said to the Volkskrant. "We will wait for the figures and include the data in our reports. We will of course state how the data came about. But anything that contributes to a better image is welcome."