According to a new study in the American Journal of Medicine, rural patients diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus were more likely to receive treatment if their primary care physicians (PCPs) engaged in telemedicine consults with infectious disease specialists. The researchers found that patients with physicians who participated in the VA-ECHO telemedicine program showed a 21.4% treatment rate, compared with 2.5% among patients with a PCP who did not take part in VA-ECHO.
The VA patient population experiences a rate of chronic hepatitis C that is nearly three times the rate in the general population. As the largest provider in the U.S. for hepatitis C treatment, the VA population offers an excellent study population. Thus, starting in 2011, the VA was the first system to utilize the ECHO model across the nation. The ECHO structure facilitates consultations between a specialist and PCP without direct patient involvement; after discussing a patient’s case and determining a care plan, the PCP follows the care plan for the patient.
Nearly 40% of VA patients live in rural regions that do not offer specialized medical care, but the researchers found that offering specialty telemedicine consults to PCPs in these areas led to outcomes, quality of care, and duration of treatment that mirror the results enjoyed by patients who have direct access to specialty care.
As a result of these findings, the authors advise further study to determine the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of expanding the VA-ECHO project to a full-scale policy.
To read the study, click here.
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