Objective The aims of this study were to: (1) identify the characteristics of patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) who do not attend their hospital liver clinic appointments; and (2) raise awareness among general practitioners (GP) of alternative pathways to care for CHB in order to prevent long-term complications of CHB (liver cancer and cirrhosis). Methods This prospective study was conducted between May 2018 and January 2019 at one site of a tertiary referral hospital in western Melbourne. Patients with minimal liver complications who did not attend their first two initial appointments were included in the study, in addition to referring GPs of new CHB patients to the liver clinic who had minimal liver complications (characterised by minimal fibrosis (<7kPa)) and no liver comorbidities (including cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma). GPs of patients who failed to attend the liver clinic as a new patient were sent an alternative discharge letter that included information on alternative pathways to care in the community for their patients. A follow-up survey to referring GPs was conducted afterwards for feedback. Demographic data was also collected for included patients. Results Thirty patients with non-complicated CHB were included in the study (median age 32.5 years). Patients were from 11 different countries and six regions. The mean wait time from referral to clinic date was 424 days (SD 218.9). Only four GPs responded to the letter, with non-responding GPs surveyed primarily not participating due to having over 1 year of no contact from the patient or hospital. Conclusion This study showed that there were long waiting lists for CHB referrals and alerting GPs to alternative pathways after patients failed to attend appointments was ineffective. There needs to be improved coordination between tertiary and primary services to provide timely and effective care for patients with CHB. What is known about this topic? There are 239000 Australians living with CHB: most recent estimates indicate that only 62% have been diagnosed, 15% are being monitored and 6% of those requiring treatment are receiving antiviral therapy. The complications of CHB (liver cancer and cirrhosis) can be averted by routine monitoring and timely commencement of highly effective oral antiviral therapy. In Australia, both GPs and specialists in gastroenterology and infectious diseases are involved in the management of CHB patients, but most prescribing occurs in specialist services. The current specialist-centred model of CHB care has been described as neither practical nor sustainable given the limited resources and capacity of specialist services, and the challenges for people with CHB to access public hospitals for routine care. What does this paper add? Non-attending patients were a primarily young population. The median wait time for a clinic appointment in this hospital setting was 424 days, with some patients waiting ≥800 days for an appointment. This extensive wait time for a largely asymptomatic condition may have affected attendance rates. Although this particular intervention to engage GPs in collaborative care had limited results, it is clear that management of CHB by GPs, transparency in wait lists and adequate resourcing of specialist services would help alleviate the referral burden on hospitals. What are the implications for practitioners? GPs should be aware that waiting lists for liver clinic appointments can be extensive in public hospital settings due to the high referral burden and limited resources of these services. Alternative pathways to care, such as GPs trained to prescribe Schedule 100 drugs, are an effective means of alleviating this burden while also ensuring CHB patients are seen in a timely manner and receive routine monitoring.
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