American Journal of Medicine, internal medicine, medicine, health, healthy lifestyles, cancer, heart disease, drugs

Telemedicine Specialty Support Promotes Hepatitis C Treatment by Primary Care Providers in the Department of Veterans Affairs

female doctor talking with patient on laptop

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest US provider of hepatitis C treatment. Although antiviral regimens are becoming simpler, hepatitis C antivirals are not typically prescribed by primary care providers. The Veterans Affairs Extension for Community Health Outcomes (VA-ECHO) program was launched to promote primary care–based hepatitis C treatment using videoconferencing-based specialist support. We aimed to assess whether primary care provider participation in VA-ECHO was associated with hepatitis C treatment and sustained virologic response.

Methods

We identified 4173 primary care providers (n = 152 sites) responsible for 38,753 patients with chronic hepatitis C infection. A total of 6431 patients had a primary care provider participating in VA-ECHO; 32,322 patients had an unexposed primary care provider. Exposure was modeled as a patient-level time-varying covariate. Patients became exposed after primary care provider participation in ≥1 VA-ECHO session. Multivariable Cox proportional hazards frailty modeling assessed the association between VA-ECHO exposure and hepatitis C treatment. Among treated patients, modified Poisson regression assessed the relationship between exposure and sustained virologic response.

Results

After adjustment, exposed patients received significantly higher rates of antiviral treatment compared with unexposed patients (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.20; 95% confidence interval, 1.10-1.32; P <.01). The rate of primary care provider–initiated antiviral medication was 21.4% among treated patients reviewed on VA-ECHO teleconferences compared with 2.5% among unexposed patients (P <.01). No difference in adjusted rates of sustained virologic response was observed for patients with exposed primary care providers (P = .32), with similar crude rates for primary care providers versus specialists.

Conclusions

National implementation of VA-ECHO was positively associated with hepatitis C treatment initiation by primary care providers, without differences in sustained virologic response.

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-Lauren A. Beste, MD, MSc, Thomas J. Glorioso, MS, P. Michael Ho, MD, David H. Au, MD, MS, Susan R. Kirsh, MD, MPH, Jeffrey Todd-Stenberg, BA, Michael F. Chang, MD, MPH, Jason A. Dominitz, MD, MHS, Anna E. Barón, PhD, David Ross, MD, PhD

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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