Despite the urging of the United States Preventive Services Task Force and other organizations in 2013, the percentage of baby boomers who underwent testing for hepatitis C (HCV) infection had barely changed 2 years later – from 12.3% in 2013 to 13.8% in 2015.
The numbers are particularly troubling because new and improved antiviral drugs offer cures that could forestall liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other potential complications, with shorter regimens and fewer side effects than older regimens.
Other reactions were more forceful. “Kind of pathetic, isn’t it?” said , assistant director of the Hepatitis and Liver Clinic at Harborview Medical Center, and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle.
The researchers analyzed 2013 and 2015 data from the , which included records for 21,827 baby boomers with HCV testing data.
The slight increase overall of 12.3% to 13.8% was small but also statistically significant (P = .013). Some populations fared better: Compared with the privately insured, those with Medicare plus Medicaid were more likely to have been tested (prevalence ratio, 1.83; 95% confidence interval, 1.32-2.53), as were those only on Medicaid (PR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.04-1.76), and those with military insurance (PR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.16-2.26).
The study could be subject to recall bias, since it relied on participants’ self-reports.
The authors speculate that the higher prevalence of testing in those with military insurance may reflect efforts by the Veterans Health Administration to reduce the high prevalence of HCV-associated disease among veterans.
It’s entirely possible to increase testing rates, according to Dr. Scott, who has a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study ways to increase uptake. “Probably the easiest thing to do is just incorporate this information into your electronic medical record and make it part of your alerts and standard preventative practices. Try to automate a lot of this rather than remind a very busy primary care doctor of all the things they have to do,” he said.
For example, one strategy that Seattle’s King County has employed is to automatically notify the testing laboratory if an antibody test is positive. “The lab knows to keep that blood and run a second (nucleic acid) test without the patient having to come back. That has helped to get our confirmatory rates up,” said Dr. Scott.
More broadly, the importance of testing needs to be emphasized, according to , medical director at the Institute of Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, and a professor of medicine and surgery at the University of Maryland. “We need everybody to buy into this: the primary care physicians, internists, and gynecologists. If they are not convinced of the importance of this, it’s not going to happen. And I don’t think many primary care physicians and internists are convinced yet,” he said.