Setting: Seven public hospitals in a southern province of Thailand.
Objectives: To measure delays in tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and to examine the factors associated with these delays, with special focus on the effect of drug store utilisation and health insurance coverage on patient delay.
Design: A total of 202 newly diagnosed smear-positive and smear-negative pulmonary TB patients were interviewed using a structured questionnaire.
Results: The median patient, health system and total delay were 4.4, 2.8 and 9.4 weeks, respectively. Risk factors for patient delay were age 31-60 years, having mild illness, previous similar symptoms and first presenting to non-qualified providers. Health insurance was not associated with a shorter patient delay. Health system delay was significant longer for patients with health insurance and first presenting to low-level public health facility (i.e., community hospital, health centre, primary care unit or private clinic/hospital).
Conclusions: The public should be informed how to recognise TB symptoms to shorten patient delay. The Thai National Tuberculosis Control Programme needs to supervise the private health sector, including drug stores, for better TB control. Drug store personnel need to be trained to recognise and refer TB suspects. The capacity of low-level public health facilities and private doctors in TB diagnosis needs improvement. A proper referral system should be developed.