Feds, AMA look to telemedicine, health IT to treat hepatitis C

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partnered with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the American Medical Association to use health IT and telemedicine to treat patients with hepatitis C.

The CDC is working to help patients who live in remote areas and have limited access to care. The lack of provider expertise in treatment of HCV--and limited access to providers who do--poses a challenge to care, according to a Health IT Buzz blog post by John Ward, director of the division of viral hepatitis at the CDC, and Amy Helwig, medical officer at the ONC.

About 3 million people have HCV in the U.S., but many of them are not tested or treated for the virus, according to Ward and Helwig. 

The program--dubbed Project ECHO--is a telemedicine approach to increase primary care capacity for treatment of HCV in areas low on specialists. It includes regular videoconferencing for primary care providers that enables collaboration with specialists and patients, allowing for an "active exchange" of information and advice.

While Project ECHO is a right step in the direction of increasing the use of telemedicine at rural healthcare facilities, states are still encountering challenges when it comes to using the technology.

Research published in January in the Pediatric Infections Disease Journal found that using the features in an electronic health record can improve identification and follow up of infants born to mothers infected with HCV.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends hepatitis C antibody testing for all exposed infants by the age of 18 months, most of them do not receive such testing. Researchers from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University and MetroHealth Center conducted a two-part study to determine if using their EHR would improve testing rates for high risk infants. They first conducted a retrospective review of medical records, and then added hepatitis testing to the EHR's problem list and sent electronic messaging to the high risk infants' primary care physicians via the EHRs regarding the need to follow-up and test for the disease. 

The CDC, ONC and AMA also developed clinical decision support tools for Project ECHO after identifying clinical quality measures for testing. 

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- visit Project ECHO's website

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