‘Trashed their fax machines’: Health Department scraps paper contact tracing

The Victorian Health Department has quietly scrapped its paper COVID-19 notification system in a major boost for the state's trouble-plagued contact tracing unit.

The new electronic notification system, which went live on Wednesday afternoon, allows doctors who test people for COVID-19 to quickly enter results into an online database that instantly alerts health authorities of positive tests.

University Hospital Geelong’s contact tracing department.Credit:Jason South

Medical professionals said they hoped the change would speed up contact tracing in the state, where long delays have hampered efforts to get on top of community transmission of the virus.

Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait welcomed the new electronic system, which he had first called for in May.

"The AMA has been calling for this for months. We're really pleased this has finally come to pass and they've trashed their fax machines," Dr Rait said.

"Doctors doing tests were waiting for hours to get through on the phone to advise the department."

He said the new system should make contact tracing "much quicker" in Victoria, where close contacts have waited days and sometimes weeks to be notified of their exposure to someone with COVID-19.

Dr Rait said electronic notification was crucial to efficient contact tracing in a pandemic.

A doctor working at a Department of Health and Human Services testing site in Melbourne said she hoped the new system would make the notification process "a lot" faster.

"Previously it was not unusual for it to take two days to get from paper to the computer," the doctor said.

The digital system "will stop the spelling mistakes that cause cases not to be linked to the lab notifications", she said, explaining that classification errors were being caused by mistakes in reading handwriting.

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