ECHO+: Improving access to hepatitis C care within Indigenous communities in Alberta, Canada

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BACKGROUND: Indigenous populations experience higher rates of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections in Canada. The Extension for Community Health Outcomes+ (ECHO+) telehealth model was implemented in Alberta to support HCV screening and treatment, using Zoom technology to support Indigenous patient access to specialist care closer to home. Our goal was to expand this program to more Indigenous communities in Alberta, using various Indigenous-led or co-designed methods. METHODS: The ECHO+ team implemented a Two-Eyed Seeing framework, incorporating Indigenous wholistic approaches alongside Western treatment. This approach works with principles of respect, reciprocity, and relationality. The ECHO+ team identified Indigenous-specific challenges, including access to liver specialist care, HCV awareness, stigma, barriers to screening and lack of culturally relevant approaches. RESULTS: Access to HCV care via this program significantly increased HCV antiviral use in the past 5 years. Key lessons learned include Indigenous-led relationship building and development of project outputs in response to community needs influences impact and increases relevant changes increasing access to HCV care. Implementation of ECHO+ through biweekly telehealth sessions, problem solving in partnership with Indigenous communities, increased HCV awareness, and flexibility resulting from the impacts of COVID-19. CONCLUSION: Improving Indigenous patient lives and reducing inequity requires supporting local primary health care providers to create and sustain integrated HCV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and support services within a culturally safe and reciprocal model. ECHO+ uses telehealth and culturally appropriate methodology and interventions alongside multiple stakeholder collaborations to improve health outcomes for HCV.