Hepatitis C-related cirrhosis
Liver cirrhosis is a significant complication that occurs in about two to three of every 10 people with chronic hepatitis C, generally after longstanding (20 to 30 years) infection.6 People with cirrhosis remain at risk of complications of liver disease such as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), even after being cured of hepatitis C.
Follow up for patients with cirrhosis
Patients with cirrhosis require lifelong follow up (Table).6,15,16 They should be referred to a gastroenterologist for specialist care. In particular, all patients with cirrhosis require HCC surveillance with six-monthly targeted liver ultrasound examinations. The GP should also provide hepatitis A and B, influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations to all patients with cirrhosis in accordance with Australian immunisation guidelines.10
Shared models of care with open lines of communication between the GP and specialist can facilitate safe and effective management of patients with cirrhosis. This includes timely adherence to screening programs, safe prescribing of medications when liver dysfunction is present and early identification of decompensating liver function. Shared models of care can be supported through initiation of chronic disease care plans, team care arrangements and case conferencing.
Rural and remote GPs
Patients in a rural or remote area may not always be able to access a gastroenterologist. In this situation, the GP may need to take greater responsibility for co-ordinating care and may organise screening and monitor the patient’s liver function in collaboration with the specialist (Table).6,15,16 Co-ordination of care can be facilitated through a good relationship with a specialist in the regional centre, use of telemedicine and case conferencing.
After hepatitis C treatment with DAAs, all patients need follow up by their GPs. Over 95% of patients are cured after a full course of DAA treatment and will not need further hepatitis C treatment (see the Case study in Box 1). A small proportion of patients will require further management, and GPs can play a valuable role in their ongoing care in partnership with specialists. Patients at risk of reinfection will also need support to reduce their risk as well as regular HCV RNA testing by PCR. MT
Dr Baker has received clinical trial funding and conference sponsorship and serves on the advisory board for AbbVie, Gilead and MSD.
Dr Pedrana receives funding for investigator-initiated research from AbbVie, Gilead and MSD. Dr Doyle receives funding for investigator-initiated research or consulting from AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead and MSD.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution to this work of the Victorian Operational Infrastructure Support Program received by the Burnet Institute.