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TB Treatment Goes Hi-Tech

April 1-7 is National Public Health Week. On April 4, we show how technology can be a powerful tool to improve public health. We’re proud to share how our Communicable Disease Control staff use technology to help Pierce County residents with tuberculosis. 

This time of year, a lush, green garden is a point of pride for homeowners. It takes work to water, weed, and mow, but the rewards of beautiful, healthy, and strong plants are worth the effort. 

We all know what can happen if we don’t regularly maintain our gardens. Tuberculosis, or TB, treatment requires a similar level of care. 

How TB can take a turn for the worse. 

Bacteria cause TB, which antibiotics can cure. But a person with active TB has to take multiple antibiotics for at least 6 months. Patients find it hard to follow this schedule on their own. If they don’t take their medicine as prescribed, they can:

  • Get worse.
  • Develop drug-resistant TB.
  • Spread their TB to others. 

Technology makes treatment easier and more convenient. 

Directly observed therapy, or DOT, is a way to ensure patients take their medicine as prescribed. For years, our TB program has received recognition as an innovator. In 1998, the Department was the first local health jurisdiction in the country to use video to verify TB patients took their medicine. 

This is how DOT works:

  • Patients can use their smartphone, tablet or computer to connect with us by video.
  • They take their medicine while the healthcare worker observes.
  • The healthcare worker asks how patient are doing and if they have any questions or concerns about their treatment.

These virtual meetings happen regularly, sometimes every day. 

In a video call that lasts two minutes, we can accomplish what could take an hour or more to do in person. In some rare cases, we still do home visits or meet patients at pre-arranged locations to observe them take their medicine. Most patients find this inconvenient. In-person observations are also time-consuming and costly for the Health Department because healthcare workers might have to travel significant distances every day to meet patients. 

With technology—and Health Department healthcare workers—TB patients get the support they need to successfully complete their treatment. It’s fast. It’s convenient. It keeps TB from spreading. 

Learn more about our TB program at