Patients pathways to tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment in a fragmented health system: a qualitative study from a south Indian district

BMC Public Health. 2017 Aug 4;17(1):635. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4627-7.


Background: India's Revised National Tuberculosis (TB) Control Programme (RNTCP) offers free TB diagnosis and treatment. But more than 50% of TB patients seek care from private practitioners (PPs), where TB is managed sub-optimally. In India, there is dearth of studies capturing experiences of TB patients when they navigate through health facilities to seek care. Also, there is less information available on how PPs make decisions to refer TB cases to RNTCP. We conducted this study to understand the factors influencing TB patient's therapeutic itineraries to RNTCP and PP's cross referral practices linked to RNTCP.

Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews on a purposive sample of 33 TB patients and 38 PPs. Patients were categorised into three groups: those who reached RNTCP directly, those who were referred by PPs to RNTCP and patients who took DOT from PPs. We assessed patient's experiences in each category and documented their journey from initial symptoms until they reached RNTCP, where they were diagnosed and started on treatment. PPs were categorised into three groups based on their TB case referrals to RNTCP: actively-referring, minimally-referring and non-referring.

Results: Patients had limited awareness about TB. Patients switched from one provider to the other, since their symptoms were not relieved. A first group of patients, self-medicated by purchasing get rid drugs from private chemists over the counter, before seeking care. A second group sought care from government facilities and had simple itineraries. A third group who sought care from PPs, switched concurrently and/or iteratively from public and private providers in search for relief of symptoms causing important diagnostic delays. Eventually all patients reached RNTCP, diagnosed and started on treatment. PP's cross-referral practices were influenced by patient's paying capacity, familiarity with RNTCP, kickbacks from private labs and chemists, and even to get rid of TB patients. These trade-offs by PPs complicated patient's itineraries to RNTCP.

Conclusions: India aims to achieve universal health care for TB. Our study findings help RNTCP to develop initiatives to promote early detection of TB, by involving PPs and private chemists and establish effective referral systems from private sectors to RNTCP.

Keywords: India; Kickbacks; PPM; Private pharmacists; Private practitioners; RNTCP; Referral practices; Therapeutic itinerary; Tuberculosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Awareness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • National Health Programs / standards
  • National Health Programs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Private Sector / standards
  • Private Sector / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*
  • Young Adult