Pharmacists In Position to Impact Change for Hepatitis C

SEPTEMBER 14, 2018
Joel Claycomb, PharmD
At this year’s International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) World Congress in Glasgow, Scotland the topic of improving care in patients with Hepatitis C was discussed. This session identified the current landscape, how pharmacists can position themselves to aid in point of care testing, and ways to better educate patients and providers.

The Hepatitis C virus affects over 60 million people globally.  Most individuals are unaware that an acute Hepatitis infection is typically asymptomatic. This can lead to spread of the virus, in addition to the progression of hepatitis in individuals, leading to adverse outcomes and higher healthcare costs. 

The first speaker during this session was Dr. Antons Mozalevskis of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Denmark. He provided an overview of the worldwide Hepatitis C landscape. At the present time, he said, there is an increase in Hepatitis C mortality globally, while HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria have all seen decreases. The current goals of the WHO are to expand treatment access, and provide clearer guidelines for testing in the hopes of eliminating the disease in the next 15 years.

Currently, standard of care testing tends to be time consuming and expensive, which often leads to a lack of screening. Many patients are symptom free or have non-specific complaints and so providers do not routinely order these tests, according to Mozalevskis.

Meanwhile, rapid point-of-care tests for Hepatitis C have proven to be more cost-effective and convenient when compared with standard of care tests, and this is where pharmacists come into the picture. Around the world, the practice of pharmacy is evolving into one of more direct patient care. A shortage of primary care providers and specialists has fueled the fire toward utilizing all healthcare professionals to solve these types of problems. 

As these changes occur, pharmacy education has to prepare pharmacy graduates to practice today, as well as in the future. Speaker Patricia Acuna Johnson from the University of Valparaiso, Chile identified a pilot a program in her country to provide the skills necessary to face the challenge. By providing pharmacy students with a deeper knowledge of the Hepatitis C virus and its effects on the patient, as well as improving communication between providers and patients, her team was able to greatly improve outcomes throughout the country.

Julie Akers from the College of Pharmacy, Washington State University described the importance of having consistency in screening all at-risk patients, not just those with risky behavior or who have had transfusions in the past.

Pharmacy-based testing has the potential to reach at risk individuals who are not tested for Hepatitis C elsewhere. When combined with integrated specialist referral, it has the potential to reduce the burden of undiagnosed disease and engage new diagnoses directly.

Pharmacists are in an ideal position to impact change as it relates to hepatitis C. Community pharmacists can increase patient access to screening and counselling, and provide a referral into the healthcare system. Pharmacists within health systems can manage patient care, from ordering and interpreting laboratory results to managing the complex medication regimen many patients face.
 
Click to read about A Need for Pharmacists in Humanitarian Aid Work from the FIP World Congress.


 

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