According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has one of the highest rates of hepatitis C in the country, which is strongly linked to the current opioid abuse crisis that is gripping the state. Between the years 2009 and 2013, West Virginia saw an 82 percent increase in reported rates of acute hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is especially a problem in rural areas, where patients are often forced to seek specialist treatment far from home.
In response, the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute has launched Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) in West Virginia. This program utilizes multipoint video conferencing to address hepatitis C cases that have risen steadily in recent years in West Virginia largely due to the increase in intravenous drug use.
“Project ECHO in West Virginia came about when Amber Crist and Craig Robinson at Cabin Creek Health Systems came to us and requested a partnership to launch an ECHO program providing specialized hepatitis C expertise to community providers,” said Sally Hodder, M.D., director of the WVCTSI.
The ECHO model addresses this issue by providing rural primary care providers with specialized hepatitis C training. Using a hub-and-spoke knowledge-sharing network, ECHO will establish West Virginia University as the central hub, connecting hepatitis C specialists with rural clinics throughout West Virginia. Weekly sessions are conducted during which participating clinics present patients to the expert panel that includes not only infectious diseases experts but an addiction expert, a pharmacist and a nurse.
To participate in Project ECHO for hepatitis C, all a clinic needs is an Internet connection and a webcam. Cabin Creek Health Systems is one of the primary care clinics that will be participating in the ECHO program.
“We had to rethink the way West Virginians were treated for hepatitis C,” said Craig Robinson, executive director of Cabin Creek Health Systems. “We believe being able to treat people in their communities is far better for patients than having to send them to specialists far away.”
The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that injection drug use now accounts for at least 60 percent of hepatitis C transmission in the United States, according to the CDC.
“This problem goes hand in hand with the addiction epidemic our state is currently facing. Project ECHO has an opportunity to really impact our work in solving the problems this state is experiencing due to opioid abuse in West Virginia,” said Judith Feinberg, M.D., an infectious diseases doctor focused on problems related to addiction.
Project ECHO is still recruiting clinics to participate in this new educational program. For information on how to participate in Project ECHO in West Virginia, contact Jay Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ECHO platform, which originated at the University of New Mexico, is utilized nationwide to address various health needs in individual states.
In August 2012, the WVCTSI was awarded a $19.6 million IDeA Clinical and Translational grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences titled “West Virginia IDeA CTR” [Institutional Development Award for Clinical and Translational Research, 1U54RR033567-02; Hodder (Principal Investigator)] to support WVCTSI’s mission of building clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity to impact health disparities in West Virginia.
This grant was matched by a $33.5 million commitment from several West Virginia entities to create a total funding of $53.1 million to recruit 24 clinician scientists and provide infrastructure core support in biostatistics, bioinformatics, community engagement and outreach, clinical research education and mentoring, ethical and regulatory knowledge support, and pilot grants to grow clinical and translational research in the state.
CONTACT: Ian Moore, West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.