Consider these two facts:
- Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a life-threatening disease.
- There are now medications that can cure HCV in most people.
So why isn’t this disease already in our rear-view mirror? Several reasons account for why treatment hasn’t reached some of those who need it, such as lack of expertise by some providers and vulnerable patients not receiving the community outreach they need, say experts from the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
In response to these concerns, the ONC and CDC have launched some pilot programs to better understand which methods are effective for treating HCV in rural areas (which continue to be underserved in HCV treatment), explains John Ward, M.D., Director of the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the CDC and Amy Helwig, M.D., Medical Officer at the ONC. These programs rely on clinical decision support and telehealth tools to reach at-risk rural patients. In addition, health providers in areas of insufficient healthcare access can benefit from remote connections with specialists.
The primary care providers in these programs took part in weekly videoconferences with specialists who served as mentors, informed them of best practices, and exchanged clinical data. Of the 66 primary care providers who enrolled in these programs, the vast majority were rural-based and had no previous experience with HCV. With the help of these programs, nearly half of HCV patients received appropriate antiviral treatment. Programs like these will hopefully keep increasing the number of HCV patients who receive appropriate treatment so that HCV can one day truly be a disease of the pa