BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause of chronic liver disease and death. Drug use remains the significant cause of new infections in the European Union, with estimates of HCV antibody prevalence among people who inject drugs ranging from 5% to 90% in 29 European countries. In Ireland and the European Union, primary care is a key area to focus efforts to enhance HCV diagnosis and treatment among people who inject drugs.
OBJECTIVE: The Heplink study aims to improve HCV care outcomes among opiate substitution therapy (OST) patients in general practice by developing an integrated model of HCV care and evaluating its feasibility, acceptability, and likely efficacy.
METHODS: The integrated model of care comprises education of community practitioners, outreach of an HCV-trained nurse into general practitioner (GP) practices, and enhanced access of patients to community-based evaluation of their HCV disease (including a novel approach to diagnosis, that is, Echosens FibroScan Mini 430). A total of 24 OST-prescribing GP practices were recruited from the professional networks and databases of members of the research consortium. Patients were eligible if they are aged ≥18 years, on OST, and attend the practice for any reason during the recruitment period. Baseline data on HCV care processes and outcomes were extracted from the clinical records of participating patients.
RESULTS: This study is ongoing and has the potential to make an important impact on patient care and provide high-quality evidence to help GPs make important decisions on HCV testing and onward referral.
CONCLUSIONS: A substantial proportion of HCV-positive patients on OST in general practice are not engaged with specialist hospital services but qualify for direct-acting antiviral drugs treatment. The Heplink model has the potential to reduce HCV-related morbidity and mortality.
REGISTERED REPORT IDENTIFIER: RR1-10.2196/9043.
- hepatitis C
- primary health care
- general practice
- opiate substitution treatment