Colorado VA’s Rural Hepatitis Telemedicine Program

The Veterans Administration (VA) has initiated an ambitious program to provide hepatitis C (HCV) treatment to all veterans with the virus.  The VA is treating all veterans with HCV regardless of fibrosis score or other criteria.

Becky Ashcraft, Nurse Coordinator for the Colorado VA’s Rural Hepatitis Telemedicine Program, recently presented some of the progress that they’ve been making to ensure that Colorado veterans who live in rural areas can receive treatment for hepatitis C.

We’d like to share just a little bit from her presentation highlighting the work that they Program are doing. The Rural Hepatitis Telemedicine Program is working to bring HCV treatment to rural areas of Colorado by using technology to help patients receive specialist care in rural areas.

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This slide shows the uptick in patients being treated by the programs during 2016.  Increased VA funding for HCV treatment has led to a substantial increase in the number of veterans being treated.

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Patient compliance with the treatment regimen – which usually involves taking a pill once a day for 12 weeks – has been around 95%.  Patients receive medication through the mail and have appointments at one of several clinics throughout the state.

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Sustained Virological Response (SVR) means that a there is no detection of HCV in a patient 12 weeks after completing treatment.  SVR is how we know someone has been cured of HCV.  The Rural Hepatitis Telemedicine Program helped 73 patients achieve SVR in 2016.  For only a handful of patients, treatment was unsuccessful.

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This final slide show why it’s so important that more veterans are being treated.  Veterans have higher rates of HCV than the general population, especially veterans who are baby boomers.  The data above shows reductions in mortality and liver cancer for veterans who have been cured of HCV compared to veterans who still have the virus.  Because Direct-Acting Antiviral (DAAs) treaments for HCV are still so new, the data above is of patients who underwent successful treatment using interferon-based therapy – a treatment that was less effective and had far more complications than new DAAs.  As  more veterans get treated, we can anticipate even greater reductions in the number of liver transplants, rates of liver cancer and overall mortality.

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