Primary Care Perspectives on Hepatitis C Virus Screening, Diagnosis and Linking Patients to Appropriate Care
Enormous progress has been made in recent years toward effectively treating and curing patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC). However, at least half of the possible 7 million individuals infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the US remain undiagnosed. The formidable task of increasing the number of patients diagnosed, and subsequently linked to appropriate care has fallen to primary care clinicians, who are mandated by some US States to offer screening to individuals born between 1945 and 1965 (the Baby Boomer Generation). This peer-reviewed video roundtable discussion http://hepcresource.amjmed.com/Content/jplayer/video_roundtable.html#video0 addresses the challenges encountered by primary care clinicians faced with the increasing societal need to screen for HCV, make appropriate diagnoses, and subsequently link infected patients to appropriate care. Discussion in this roundtable initially focuses on the offering of HCV screening to patients in primary care settings. Roundtable participants discuss the need for primary care clinicians to ask appropriate risk factor-based questions of their patients, especially if the ongoing HCV epidemic is to be curtailed. The participants note, however, that the majority of patients currently infected with HCV in the US are Baby Boomers, and USPTF guidelines require this population to be tested for HCV regardless of any past risk-taking behaviors. So while asking the right questions is important, the failure of a Baby Boomer to recall risk-taking behavior does not preclude HCV screening. In fact, clinicians should proactively screen all persons in this birth cohort, and be more sensitive and open to screening requests from these individuals. Roundtable participants also discuss how HCV screening results should be communicated to patients, and how physicians can keep patients engaged and not lost to follow-up after an initial positive HCV antibody test. Patients screened and found to be HCV antibody positive require a follow-up HCV RNA test, and every effort must be made to overcome the challenge of losing patients between these two steps. Good communication between the physician, the physician's office staff, and the patient is necessary. In addition, point-of-care tests and PCR reflex testing can alleviate the need for HCV antibody positive patients to arrange subsequent office visits to undergo confirmatory HCV RNA testing. Physician and patient perspectives are presented throughout this roundtable discussion to obtain a complete picture of the management barriers encountered prior to initiation of therapy. Physician perspectives are provided by Edward Lebovics, the Upham Professor of Gastroenterology and Director of the Sarah C. Upham Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatobiliary Diseases at New York Medical College and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, and Richard Torres, Chief Medical Officer at Optimus Health Care and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale School of Medicine. Torres has been a primary care provider for 29 years, working at the largest federally qualified community health center in Southwestern CT, which provides over 240,000 patient visits annually primarily to populations that are underserved and suffering from healthcare disparities. Patient perspectives in this roundtable are provided by Lucinda K. Porter, RN, who is the author of two books for hepatitis C patients, and is a former hepatology nurse and hepatitis C patient. She has been advocating for others since 1997, and writes for the HCV Advocate. Lucinda is a contributing editor of HEP magazine, and she blogs at www.LucindaPorterRN.com. The overall goal of this video roundtable discussion is to demonstrate that when provided with appropriate clinical knowledge, and aided by supportive collaborations with appropriate specialists, primary care clinicians should be able to effectively screen, diagnose, and link patients with hepatitis C to appropriate care. While patients need to be educated on the possible outcomes of a positive HCV antibody test, the significance of a positive HCV RNA test, and how to prevent further transmission, they should also be assured that currently available therapies have dramatically increased the chances of being cured. Appropriate education and the availability of excellent treatment options will hopefully quell fears and increase the morale of patients as they navigate the process of HCV screening and diagnosis.
Lebovics, E., Torres, R., & Porter, L. (2017). Primary Care Perspectives on Hepatitis C Virus Screening, Diagnosis and Linking Patients to Appropriate Care. American Journal of Medicine, 130 (2), S1-S2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.01.001