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Treatment as diagnosis and diagnosis as treatment: empirical management of presumptive tuberculosis in India

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BACKGROUND: Mismanagement of TB is a concern in the Indian private sector, and empirical management might be a key contributor.

OBJECTIVE: To understand factors associated with empirical diagnosis and treatment of presumed TB in India's private sector and examine their effects on TB care.

DESIGN: In this ethnographic study, 110 private practitioners of varying qualification who interacted with TB patients (90 in Mumbai and 20 in Patna) were interviewed, and a subset was observed while providing clinical care. Interviews and observations were analysed for indicators of empirical diagnosis and treatment.

RESULTS: All non-specialist practitioners began antibiotic treatment, especially quinolones, for persistent cough before prescribing a test. Several factors contribute to empirical management. These include a common practice use of medications as diagnostic tools, a desire to provide rapid symptom relief to patients, a desire to manage illness costs effectively, uncertainty about the presentation of TB, the effects of broad spectrum antibiotics on TB symptomology, and uncertainty about the accuracy of available TB tests.

CONCLUSION: Empiricism in general and in TB care is widespread in the urban private sector in India. Ethnography might offer useful insights for addressing this in public-private mix models.

Keywords: India; empiric management; fluoroquinolones; private sector; tuberculosis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: McGill International TB Centre & Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IJTLD) is for clinical research and epidemiological studies on lung health, including articles on TB, TB-HIV and respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, asthma, COPD, child lung health and the hazards of tobacco and air pollution. Individuals and institutes can subscribe to the IJTLD online or in print – simply email us at [email protected] for details.

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