Telemedicine project tackles hepatitis C virus and substance abuse treatment


A federally funded project in New York that tests the value of telemedicine in treating patients battling substance abuse and hepatitis C virus (HCV) is expanding, following promising results.

Seven opioid treatment programs, comprising 12 locations, are joining the research study, which was launched in 2016 by the State University of New York at Buffalo. It has received a $7 million grant funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The five-year project aims to compare virtual care with in-person care in using medication assisted treatment (MAT) therapy.

The project focuses on an elusive and undeserved population. Around 5 million people in U.S. are infected by HCV. Large percentage of this population contracts the virus through drug use and as many as 70 percent are classified as chronically infected. In the absence of proper treatment, HCV can lead to liver disease, liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer and death.

Currently the treatment for drug users with HCV involves a visit to a methadone clinic, followed by a referral to a liver specialist for continued care. But many patients tend to ignore those referrals, often because they don’t trust the doctors, or they follow through with an appointment but don’t follow a prescribed care plan.

Researchers hope that a video visit arranged at the methadone clinic will improve the level of trust. Thus, boosting patient adherence to a care management plan and clinical outcomes.

Andrew H. Talal, MD, a professor of medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and a physician with UBMD Internal Medicine said that the conventional method of treatment delivery- referral to an offsite location discourages people from initiating or completing the treatment.

Telemedicine removes geography as an obstacle to high-quality specialty care for a common condition among individuals at an OTP. It allows direct interaction between the doctor and a patient. Doctors are also able to administer the new HCV medications together with methadone, which increases medication adherence.”