Missed opportunities for diagnosis and treatment in patients with tuberculosis symptoms: a systematic review
Background Identification of symptomatic patients followed by prompt on-site investigation form the foundation of facility-based tuberculosis (TB) screening and diagnosis. However, underdiagnosis is common, contributing to ongoing transmission and adverse health outcomes. We conducted this systematic review with the hypothesis that underdiagnosis is largely secondary to patient drop out from presentation, through the diagnostic and care pathway, to treatment initiation. Methods We searched (to
... 2 January 2019) MEDLINE, Embase, and Cinahl for studies investigating the pathway of care for patients (and standardised patients) presenting to health facilities or pharmacies with TB symptoms. We used QUADAS-2 to assess risk of bias. We reported the proportions of symptomatic patients at each stage of the diagnostic and care pathway from symptom screening to treatment initiation. Results After screening 3,184 titles and abstracts, we identified 14 eligible studies. None provided data addressing the full cascade of care from clinical presentation to treatment initiation in the same patient population. Symptom-screening, the critical entry point for diagnosis of TB, was not done for 40%, 50%, and 96% of symptomatic participants in the three studies that reported this outcome. The proportion of symptomatic attendees offered a diagnostic investigation (data available for 13 studies), was very low with a study level median of 38% (IQR: 22% to 45%, range 5% to 84%).Conclusions Inefficiencies of the TB symptom screen-based patient pathway are a major contributor to underdiagnosis of TB in health facilities, and reflect inconsistent implementation of longstanding guidelines to ask all patients attending health facilities about respiratory symptoms and to offer diagnostic tests to all patients promptly once TB symptoms are identified. Better screening tools and interventions to improve the efficiency of TB screening and diagnosis pathways in health facilities are urgently needed.