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      What Internet Services Would Patients Like From Hospitals During an Epidemic? Lessons From the SARS Outbreak in Toronto


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          International health organizations and officials are bracing for a pandemic. Although the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Toronto did not reach such a level, it created a unique opportunity to identify the optimal use of the Internet to promote communication with the public and to preserve health services during an epidemic.


          The aim of the study was to explore patients’ attitudes regarding the health services that might be provided through the Internet to supplement those traditionally available in the event of a future mass emergency situation.


          We conducted “mask-to-mask” surveys of patients at three major teaching hospitals in Toronto during the second outbreak of SARS. Patients were surveyed at the hospital entrances and selected clinics. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression models were used for the analysis.


          In total, 1019 of 1130 patients responded to the survey (90% overall response rate). With respect to Internet use, 70% (711/1019) used the Internet by themselves and 57% (578/1019) with the help of a friend or family member. Of the Internet users, 68% (485/711) had already searched the World Wide Web for health information, and 75% (533/711) were interested in communicating with health professionals using the Internet as part of their ongoing care. Internet users expressed interest in using the Web for the following reasons: to learn about their health condition through patient education materials (84%), to obtain information about the status of their clinic appointments (83%), to send feedback to the hospital about how to improve its services (77%), to access screening tools to help determine if they were potentially affected by the infectious agent responsible for the outbreak (77%), to renew prescriptions (75%), to consult with their health professional about nonurgent matters (75%), and to access laboratory test results (75%). Regression results showed that younger age, higher education, and English as a first language were predictors of patients’ interest in using Internet services in the event of an epidemic.


          Most patients are willing and able to use the Internet as a means to maintain communication with the hospital during an outbreak of an infectious disease such as SARS. Hospitals should explore new ways to interact with the public, to provide relevant health information, and to ensure continuity of care when they are forced to restrict their services.

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          Evaluation of control measures implemented in the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in Beijing, 2003.

          Beijing, China, experienced the world's largest outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) beginning in March 2003, with the outbreak resolving rapidly, within 6 weeks of its peak in late April. Little is known about the control measures implemented during this outbreak. To describe and evaluate the measures undertaken to control the SARS outbreak. Data were reviewed from standardized surveillance forms from SARS cases (2521 probable cases) and their close contacts observed in Beijing between March 5, 2003, and May 29, 2003. Procedures implemented by health authorities were investigated through review of official documents and discussions with public health officials. Timeline of major control measures; number of cases and quarantined close contacts and attack rates, with changes in infection control measures, management, and triage of suspected cases; and time lag between illness onset and hospitalization with information dissemination. Health care worker training in use of personal protective equipment and management of patients with SARS and establishing fever clinics and designated SARS wards in hospitals predated the steepest decline in cases. During the outbreak, 30 178 persons were quarantined. Among 2195 quarantined close contacts in 5 districts, the attack rate was 6.3% (95% confidence interval [CI], 5.3%-7.3%), with a range of 15.4% (95% CI, 11.5%-19.2%) among spouses to 0.36% (95% CI, 0%-0.77%) among work and school contacts. The attack rate among quarantined household members increased with age from 5.0% (95% CI, 0%-10.5%) in children younger than 10 years to 27.6% (95% CI, 18.2%-37.0%) in adults aged 60 to 69 years. Among almost 14 million people screened for fever at the airport, train stations, and roadside checkpoints, only 12 were found to have probable SARS. The national and municipal governments held 13 press conferences about SARS. The time lag between illness onset and hospitalization decreased from a median of 5 to 6 days on or before April 20, 2003, the day the outbreak was announced to the public, to 2 days after April 20 (P<.001). The rapid resolution of the SARS outbreak was multifactorial, involving improvements in management and triage in hospitals and communities of patients with suspected SARS and the dissemination of information to health care workers and the public.
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            Identification and containment of an outbreak of SARS in a community hospital.

            Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is continuing to spread around the world. All hospitals must be prepared to care for patients with SARS. Thus, it is important to understand the transmission of this disease in hospitals and to evaluate methods for its containment in health care institutions. We describe how we cared for the first 2 patients with SARS admitted to our 419-bed community hospital in Richmond Hill, Ont., and the response to a SARS outbreak within our institution. We collected clinical and epidemiological data about patients and health care workers at our institution who during a 13-day period had a potential unprotected exposure to 2 patients whose signs and symptoms were subsequently identified as meeting the case definition for probable SARS. The index case at our hospital was a patient who was transferred to our intensive care unit (ICU) from a referral hospital on Mar. 16, 2003, where he had been in close proximity to the son of the individual with the first reported case of SARS in Toronto. After 13 days in the ICU, a diagnosis of probable SARS was reached for our index case. Immediately upon diagnosis of our index case, respiratory isolation and barrier precautions were instituted throughout our hospital and maintained for a period of 10 days, which is the estimated maximum incubation period reported for this disease. Aggressive surveillance measures among hospital staff, patients and visitors were also maintained during this time. During the surveillance period, 15 individuals (10 hospital staff, 3 patients and 2 visitors) were identified as meeting the case definition for probable or suspected SARS, in addition to our index case. All but 1 individual had had direct contact with a symptomatic patient with SARS during the period of unprotected exposure. No additional cases were identified after infection control precautions had been implemented for 8 days. No cases of secondary transmission were identified in the 21 days following the implementation of these precautions at our institution. SARS can easily be spread by direct personal contact in the hospital setting. We found that the implementation of aggressive infection control measures is effective in preventing further transmission of this disease.
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              SARS and Population Health Technology

              The recent global outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) provides an opportunity to study the use and impact of public health informatics and population health technology to detect and fight a global epidemic. Population health technology is the umbrella term for technology applications that have a population focus and the potential to improve public health. This includes the Internet, but also other technologies such as wireless devices, mobile phones, smart appliances, or smart homes. In the context of an outbreak or bioterrorism attack, such technologies may help to gather intelligence and detect diseases early, and communicate and exchange information electronically worldwide. Some of the technologies brought forward during the SARS epidemic may have been primarily motivated by marketing efforts, or were more directed towards reassuring people that "something is being done," ie, fighting an "epidemic of fear." To understand "fear epidemiology" is important because early warning systems monitoring data from a large number of people may not be able to discriminate between a biological epidemic and an epidemic of fear. The need for critical evaluation of all of these technologies is stressed.

                Author and article information

                J Med Internet Res
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                Gunther Eysenbach (Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, Toronto, Canada )
                Jul-Sep 2005
                3 August 2005
                : 7
                : 4
                : e46
                [3] 3simpleUniversity of Toronto simpleDepartment of Health Policy Management and EvaluationTorontoONCanada
                [2] 2simpleUniversity Health Network TorontoONCanada
                [1] 1simpleCentre for Global eHealth Innovation simpleUniversity Health Network and University of Toronto TorontoONCanada
                © Carlos A Rizo, Doina Lupea, Homayoun Baybourdy, Matthew Anderson, Tom Closson, Alejandro R Jadad. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 3.8.2005. Except where otherwise noted, articles published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, including full bibliographic details and the URL (see "please cite as" above), and this statement is included.
                : 01 September 2004
                : 17 September 2004
                : 07 July 2005
                : 07 July 2005
                Original Paper

                severe acute respiratory syndrome,communicable diseases, emerging,information services,internet,public health,questionnaires


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