Training community health providers to treat chronic hepatitis C virus infection is a cost-effective way to expand treatment access and reduce the national burden of this prevalent condition, according to research published in the December issue of Gastroenterology (doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.10.016).
The model, dubbed Project ECHO, “is the best way, to our knowledge, to cost-effectively find and treat HCV patients at scale,” wrote Thilo Rattay, MPH, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, and his associates. “Our analysis demonstrates that fundamentally changing the care delivery model for HCV enables unparalleled reach, in contrast to simply using ever more cost-effective drugs in an inefficient system. Project ECHO can quickly reduce the burden of disease from HCV and accelerate the impact of the new generation of highly effective medications.”
(echo.unm.edu) links multidisciplinary teams of specialists (hubs) to physicians and nurse practitioners in community practice (spokes). Each hub, which is usually based at an academic medical center, holds video conferences to mentor and teach providers about best practices for managing conditions ranging from autism to Zika virus infection. Initial reports suggest that Project ECHO can improve health care quality and access as well as job satisfaction among primary care providers, the researchers noted.
Project ECHO has 127 hubs globally, including 77 in the United States, and receives support from foundations, state legislatures, and government agencies. Because patients with chronic HCV vastly outnumber gastroenterologists in the United States, Mr. Rattay and his coinvestigators used Markov models to evaluate Project ECHO’s cost-effectiveness in the HCV setting. To do so, they created a decision tree and Markov models with Microsoft Excel, PrecisionTree, and @RISK by using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, MarketScan, and an extensive literature review
The models yielded an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $10,351 per quality-adjusted life year when compared with the status quo, said the researchers. Commonly cited willingness-to-pay thresholds are $50,000 and $100,000, indicating that Project ECHO is a cost-effective way to expand HCV treatment, they added. However, insurers would pay substantially more during the first 5 years of rollout – about $708 million versus $368 million with the status quo. During the first year, ECHO would cost payers about $350.5 million more than would the status quo, but 4,446 more patients would be treated, drastically reducing prevalence in the insurance pool. Consequently, subsequent costs would drop by nearly $11 million over the first 5 years of ECHO. Nonetheless, the “high budgetary costs suggest that incremental rollout of [Project] ECHO may be best,” the investigators wrote.
They were unable to determine whether increased treatment under ECHO relates to expanded screening, treatment adherence, or access, but sensitivity analyses suggested that “results are largely independent of the cause,” the researchers wrote. “Importantly, most of the financial benefits of treating HCV are not immediate, while a majority of the costs are upfront,” they stressed. Stakeholders therefore need to adopt a long-term view and consider population-based health care models and reimbursement strategies that “capture the full benefit of this type of ecosystem.”
The investigators had no external funding sources and no conflicts of interest.