A Highland-led Lyme disease initiative will be rolled out across Scotland and England after a successful trial.
The GP-based scheme is a collaboration between NHS Highland, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and pharmaceutical company Pfizer and aims to capture specific case numbers.
It also aims to facilitate diagnosis and improve the consistency of its management.
The Lyme Disease General Practice Sentinel Scheme, which is funded by Pfizer, has completed its pilot phase, involving a trial in 15 GP practices in the Highlands.
Interim results have been positive and the project will be rolled out more widely to GP practices over the coming weeks.
NHS Highland project manager Sam Holden said: “Our early results show that we can collect good quality data on Lyme disease cases in general practice.
“This means we can capture all cases diagnosed by GPs based on clinical history as well as those diagnosed via laboratory blood test results, proving that the number of reported cases has, so far, represented an underestimate.”
Dr James Douglas, NHS Highland GP and lead clinician for the Sentinel Scheme project, said: ‘The pilot phase of the project indicated that use of the tool was widely accepted by GPs who generally found it easy to use and useful for decision support. do in what can be a tricky diagnostic process.
“It’s important that we try to support the diagnosis in every way possible because Lyme can be easily cured with antibiotics if caught early.”
Practices participating in the program receive Lyme-specific training as well as a digital guidance and data capture tool specially developed by Scottish IT experts Albasoft and adapted and supported in England by Cegedim Healthcare Solutions.
The tool helps guide clinicians during a consultation when Lyme disease is suspected or has been confirmed by a blood test.
Lyme disease can develop if a person is bitten by a tick infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but it can be difficult to diagnose because Lyme disease patients often visit their GP with a rash which may vary widely in presentation, or with a range of vague and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Patients often have no memory of a tick bite.
One of the main goals of the project is to obtain more accurate case numbers. Lyme disease is relatively common in parts of the UK, but information on the exact number of patients who contract early-stage Lyme disease each year is unclear.
Dr Douglas added: “It is important that we have a clear understanding of the scale of the problem and that we can identify the risk factors associated with Lyme disease. This will help guide public education in Lyme disease prevention and facilitate early diagnosis so people can enjoy and derive health benefits from outdoor activities while minimizing Lyme risk.
The team expects this project to provide the most accurate estimate yet of the number of new cases of early Lyme disease in a sample of the UK population.
The deployment phase of the project aims to recruit a total of 40 firms.