CDC uses telemedicine to help primary care fight hepatitis C

July 8, 2014

ONC, AMA offer clinical standards to treat more people with the infection

Several healthcare agencies are combining their resources to teach primary care physicians better methods for treating patients with the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a pilot program in Arizona and Utah to help primary care physicians in areas with a shortage of HCV specialists use telemedicine to treat infected patients. The program, called Project ECHO, used clinical decision support guidelines, along with videoconferencing developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the American Medical Association (AMA). Of the 66 physicians who participated in the pilot program, 93% had no prior experience in treating HCV.

“The project is using health IT to identify clinical quality measures for testing, link them to care, validate the developed measures, and develop corresponding clinical decision support tools. The hope is to facilitate not only measurement of provider performance but improvement in access to care for underserved and other populations facing barriers to HCV testing, care and treatment,” says John W. Ward, MD, director of the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, and Amy Helwig, MD, MS, medical officer of ONC in a joint statement about the program.

Project ECHO’s goal is to diagnose and cure more people with the infection, which can lead to liver disease and failure. According to the CDC, only half of the people in the United States infected with HCV have been tested. Of those, 32% to 38% are referred to care, 7% to 11% are treated, and up to 6% are cured. Ultimately, the program aims to test and cure 10,000 people.

Discussion around HCV treatment has increased as new testing guidelines and treatments were released last year. The new treatment, Sovaldi, costs $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for the recommended 12-week treatment. Last month, Medicare released new guidelines to encourage more HCV testing through primary care providers.