Better linkage to care with providers who are familiar with both the HCV and HIV treatment cascade may not only improve access to HCV treatment, but it may also support patient retention, treatment adherence, and achievement of sustained virologic response (SVR) and viral suppression, said Stephanie LaMoy, CAN Community Health, North Point, Florida. She presented the results of a pilot study at the virtual Association of Nurses in AIDS Care 2020 Annual Meeting.
In an effort to identify strategies most important for improving care access among their patients with HCV, LaMoy and her colleagues assessed 12-month patient data collected from three of their clinics. These data were evaluated for HCV treatment access, engagement, and outcomes.
The pilot study included 126 patients who were reactive and another 24 HCV-positive patients who were referred from other sources. Active HCV infections requiring treatment were reported in 144 patients.
A total of 59 patients were linked to care but did not initiate treatment for their active infection. LaMoy said there were multiple causes, including homelessness,, and inability to maintain contact.
In contrast, 85 patients with HCV infection started treatment, but 35 of these patients did not complete their regimen. Out of the 50 patients who reported completing treatment, 30 did not return to the clinic to confirm sustained viral suppression.
According to LaMoy, this raised a red flag, causing the investigators to consider a different approach to care.
HIV care continuum model and its role in HCV
To improve the rate at which patients with HCV infection complete treatment within their clinics, the researchers formed a panel to determine necessary interventions that could reduce barriers to care.
The HIV care continuum came into play. They chose this model based on knowledge that HCV and HIV share the same care continuum with similar goals in diagnosis, linkage to care, retention, and suppression.
Based on the consensus of the panel and consideration of the HIV care continuum model, they identified a number of interventions needed to mitigate HCV treatment barriers. These included the incorporation of peer navigators or linkage-to-care (LCC) coordinators, use of the mobile medical unit, greater implementation of onsite lab visits, and medication-assisted treatment.
The LCC coordinators proved to be particularly important, as these team members helped assist patients with social and financial support to address challenges with access to treatment. These coordinators can also help patients gain access to specialized providers, ultimately improving the chance of successful HCV management.
Additionally, LCC coordinators may help identify and reduce barriers associated with housing, transportation, and nutrition. Frequent patient contact by the LCC coordinators can encourage adherence and promote risk reduction education, such as providing referrals to needle exchange services.
“Linking individuals to care with providers who are familiar with the treatment cascade could help improve retention and should be a top priority for those involved in HCV screening and treatment,” said LaMoy. “An environment with knowledge, lack of judgment, and a tenacious need to heal the community that welcomes those with barriers to care is exactly what is needed for the patients in our program.”