Hepatitis C treatment for difficult to access populations: can telementoring (as distinct from telemedicine) help?

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BACKGROUND: Although hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is curable, treatment of difficult to access populations (DTAP) presents unique challenges. Project ECHO (PE) (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a telementoring programme adopted to support clinicians treating DTAP.

AIMS: To determine if the PE model supports primary care clinicians treating HCV and to compare cohort of PE patients with those in a tertiary liver clinic (TLC).

METHODS: Weekly PE group video conferences were conducted. Clinical information, laboratory indices, psychosocial elements and treatment outcomes, including sustained virological response (SVR) data were recorded in the first 100 consecutive cases and retrospectively compared to 100 consecutive patients seen at a TLC from July 2016 to April 2017.

RESULTS: Some patient characteristics were similar between PE and TLC: gender (72% vs 75% male; P = 0.23), median age (45 vs 50; P = 0.344) and the proportion of treatment naïve patients (95.0% vs 90.9%). Treatment for HCV was commenced in 78% of the PE patients and 81% of the TLC patients; 67/68 of the TLC patients and 60/61 PE patients with virological follow up who completed treatment and attended follow up have confirmed SVR. PE patients are more likely to have ongoing substance use (44% vs 17% P < 0.001), be active intravenous drug users (32% vs 17%; P < 0.001) and polysubstance abusers (26% vs 7%; P < 0.001) and were more likely to be taking opioid substitution therapy (74% vs 20%; P < 0.001). Indigenous patients were three times more greatly represented in PE (15% vs 5%; P = 0.018).

CONCLUSION: PE is an effective model to support primary healthcare providers treating HCV in DTAP with similar rates of treatment uptake and SVR compared to patients in TLC.