In the foreseeable future, patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) with good healthcare access will all have been cured and the lost to follow-up (LFU) HCV-population will increasingly exist of hard-to-reach patients. Efforts to retrieve these individuals with HCV have been moderately successful so far. A deeper understanding of the reasons for loss to follow-up and the underlying processes is lacking.
To explore reasons for previous loss to follow-up in patients with HCV who have been brought back into care.
In 2017, fifteen patients with HCV who were evaluated at the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU) Infectious diseases outpatient clinic as part of the “REtrieval And cure of Chronic Hepatitis C” (REACH)-project were included in this study through convenience sampling. Face-to-face semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted and a qualitative analysis based on the grounded theory was applied.
A basic socio- psychological process named “maintaining the achieved balance” was uncovered in patients with HCV who were LFU. This “achieved balance” is the result of a transformative process following the initial HCV diagnosis. It is a steadfast stance in which participants keep HCV out of sight and in the margin of their lives in order to reestablish an optimal state of well-being. The balancing perspective is subsequently defended by repeated evasive behavioral patterns to avoid confrontation with the disease.
The balancing perspective gives insight into why individuals with HCV were not retained in care but also why they remained LFU thereafter. Physicians should realize that this mindset can be persistent and repeated efforts may be needed to finally trace and retrieve these patients.