HCV is a silent but deadly disease and the majority of Americans with HCV are not aware that they have the disease. This can lead to chronic HCV, often resulting in serious health complications. The Native American population has a significantly higher rate of HCV compared to the general population.
In an effort to improve the screening and treatment of HCV among the Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee Nation Health Service (CNHS) began implementing several different preventive measures. One of the main strategies used was Project ECHO, which allowed HCV specialists to train CNHS providers on how to screen and treat the disease. By using Project ECHO, the CNHS was able to expand from one clinic with a single qualified provider to five clinics staffed by seven health care providers trained on diagnosing and treating HCV.
In an interview with Healio News, Jorge Mera, the director of infectious diseases for the CNHS, describes Project ECHO as an invaluable tool for improving tribal member’s access to HCV screenings.
“It would have been almost impossible to train our primary care providers without [Project ECHO] since they assist patients in clinics located in rural northeastern Oklahoma that are far away from our main hospital.”
In addition to the use of Project ECHO, the CNHS also added an electronic health record reminder for clinical decision support and created an HCV registry in order to effectively monitor the care of HCB patients.
According to a recently released report by the CDC, the emphasis on HCV screening is working. From October 2012-July 2015, the number of Cherokee nation people tested for HCV for the first time increased fivefold, from 3.6% to 18.2%.
In total, 13,435 individuals were screened for HCV for the first time, 388 were confirmed to have the disease, and 201 successfully completed HCV treatment. While there is still room for improvement when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of HCV, the Cherokee nation has demonstrated that Project-ECHO is an invaluable resource for tackling the problem.