A multidisciplinary panel of U.S. experts released a “Call to Action” for improved screening, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on July 26, an effort organized by the American Gastroenterological Association in collaboration with seven other U.S. medical organizations including several endocrinology groups.
The published statement, “Preparing for the NASH Epidemic: A Call to Action,” proposes several urgent steps for the U.S. clinical community to provide better-focused and better-coordinated care for patients at risk for developing or having NAFLD or NASH, particularly among “emerging” at-risk cohorts such as patients with diabetes and obesity. It appears in the journals Gastroenterology, Diabetes Care, Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, and Obesity.
The statement’s central pitch is that improvements in care won’t be possible unless the several medical specialties that deal with affected or at-risk patients stop working “in separate silos,” and instead create “a collective action plan,” and also organize multidisciplinary teams that “integrate primary care, hepatology, obesity medicine, endocrinology, and diabetology via well-defined care pathways.”
“The overarching goal” is a “unified, international public health response to NAFLD and NASH,” said the statement, which stemmed from a conference held in July 2020 that included representatives from not only the lead gastroenterology group but also the American Diabetes Association, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, The Endocrine Society, The American Academy of Family Physicians, The Obesity Society, and the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians.
The statement cites sobering prevalence numbers, with estimates that NAFLD exists in more than half the patients with type 2 diabetes, while NASH affects about a third, rates that translate into many millions of affected Americans, given recent estimates that the U.S. prevalence of type 2 diabetes exceeds 30 million people. And the numbers continue to rise along with increases in the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
“It’s an enormously common disease, and there are not enough gastroenterologists, to say nothing of hepatologists, to care for every patient with NAFLD,” said Anna Mae Diehl, MD, a gastroenterologist and professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who was not involved with the conference nor in writing the statement.
Clinical care pathways coming soon
Another key part of this initiative is development of clinical care pathways that will have “careful explication of each step in screening, diagnosis, and treatment,” and will be designed to inform the practice of primary care physicians (PCPs) as well as clinicians from the various specialties that deal with these patients.
The clinical care pathways are on track to come out later in 2021, said Fasiha Kanwal, MD, a professor and chief of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and lead author on the Call to Action document.
“The Pathways will include practical recommendations about whom to screen and when to refer, and the criteria primary care physicians can use for diagnosis and risk stratification,” Dr. Kanwal said in an interview. “Patients can benefit from a standardized approach.”
The new document also includes results from a recent survey about NAFLD and NASH management completed by 751 U.S. physicians, including 401 (53%) primary care physicians, 175 gastroenterologists, (23%) and 175 endocrinologists (23%; percentages total 99% because of rounding).
The results showed “significant gaps in knowledge about whom to screen and how to diagnose and treat patients at high risk for NASH,” concluded the statement’s authors. Barely more than a third of the respondents knew that almost all patients with severe obesity likely have NAFLD, and fewer than half the endocrinologists and the primary care physicians appreciated that NAFLD is very common among patients with type 2 diabetes.