Background. Peru has a concentrated HIV epidemic with an estimated 76,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV). Access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) expanded between 2004-2006 and the Peruvian National Institute of Health was named by the Ministry of Health as the institution responsible for carrying out testing to monitor the effectiveness of HAART. However, a national public health laboratory information system did not exist. We describe the design and implementation of an e-health driven, web-based laboratory information system-NETLAB-to communicate laboratory results for monitoring HAART to laboratory personnel, health providers and PLHIV. Methods. We carried out a needs assessment of the existing public health laboratory system, which included the generation and subsequent review of flowcharts of laboratory testing processes to generate better, more efficient streamlined processes, improving them and eliminating duplications. Next, we designed NETLAB as a modular system, integrating key security functions. The system was implemented and evaluated. Results. The three main components of the NETLAB system, registration, reporting and education, began operating in early 2007. The number of PLHIV with recorded CD4 counts and viral loads increased by 1.5 times, to reach 18,907. Publication of test results with NETLAB took an average of 1 day, compared to a pre-NETLAB average of 60 days. NETLAB reached 2,037 users, including 944 PLHIV and 1,093 health providers, during its first year and a half. The percentage of overall PLHIV and health providers who were aware of NETLAB and had a NETLAB password has also increased substantially. Conclusion. NETLAB is an effective laboratory management tool since it is directly integrated into the national laboratory system and streamlined existing processes at the local, regional and national levels. The system also represents the best possible source of timely laboratory information for health providers and PLHIV, allowing patients to access their own results and other helpful information about their health, extending the scope of HIV treatment beyond the health facility and providing a model for other countries to follow. The NETLAB system now includes 100 diseases of public health importance for which the Peruvian National Institute of Health and the network of public health laboratories provide testing and results.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Angela Bayer is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar under NIH NIMH grant T32MH080634-03.