People attending drug treatment centres have a high burden of hepatitis C virus (HCV) and face barriers to diagnosis and treatment. Dried blood spot (DBS) testing has been proposed to simplify diagnosis, but many patients remain untreated. In this retrospective study, we evaluated the reasons for non-retention in care in an intervention using on-site DBS testing and the effect of telemedicine and decentralized care compared to standard of care among people attending drug treatment centres who were lost to follow-up.
In a first phase, retention in care, adherence to treatment, and predictive factors in the DBS testing program of patients in drug treatment centres were analyzed and compared to a cohort of patients treated at the hospital outpatient clinic. Subsequently, in a second phase we evaluated in patients lost to follow-up from drug treatment centres the efficacy of one-step testing and telemedicine linked to a decentralized dispensation of HCV treatment or standard of care.
Among 512 patients attending drug treatment centres, 467 (91.2%) agreed to be tested and 53.4% (237 patients/444 valid tests) tested positive (46 ± 9 years, 87.3% male) for HCV antibodies. After excluding patients negative for RNA or under surveillance, 178 patients were scheduled to meet with a specialist. Overall, 44 patients did not attend and 25 did not complete the pre-treatment evaluation. The only factor associated with retention in care was patient’s knowledge of HCV infection. Treated patients attending drug treatment centres (n = 68) compared to the hospital outpatient clinic cohort (n = 135) had lower rates of treatment adherence. Among the patients who attended drug treatment centres that were lost to follow-up (n = 69), the proportion of patients who completed the program was significantly higher among those assisted by telemedicine than by standard of care (62.5% vs. 24.3%, p = 0.002).
Although there was a high participation rate in a DBS testing program in drug treatment centres, non-retention in care is a challenge. Importantly, telemedicine linked to a decentralized dispensation of HCV treatment re-engages patients and may be effective for HCV microelimination.
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