The Easy Way Physicians Can Ensure Hepatitis C Screening for Baby Boomers

Studies have shown that adults born between 1945 and 1965 (aka “baby boomers”) are more likely to have come into contact with hepatitis C.

Studies have shown that adults born between 1945 and 1965 (aka “baby boomers”) are more likely to have come into contact with hepatitis C. But with that risk being five times greater than the general population, screening continues to be a challenge.

Although officials from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) and US Preventive Service Task Force say that everyone should undergo the simple blood test for hepatitis C, it’s been found that this is often skipped during baby boomers’ routine medical appointments. Why? Well, other tests and immediate health concerns usually take precedence. As World Hepatitis Day approaches (July 28), researchers from the University of Michigan pinpointed an easy way to help improve the rates of hepatitis C screening.

The (potential) answer? Electronic medical record alerts. An automated alert appears when a patient falls within the at-risk age group, and also reminds the physician to provide educational materials along with the test.

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The initiative was already implemented in primary care clinics in the U-M health system in the fall of 2015. Within the first six months, the alerts contributed to an eightfold increase in screenings. A total of 16,773 baby boomers went through testing after the electronic alert and less than 1% tested positive for the hepatitis C antibody. This may not seem like a significant number of people, but all diagnoses contribute to eliminating the disease.

“A large part of the success was figuring out how to take the logistical work away, which involves more than looking at a patient’s date of birth,” Monica Konerman, MD, MSc, a hepatologist at U-M, said in a news release. She had presented the data in May at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) in San Diego, California.

There isn’t one concrete reason as to why baby boomers are so much more likely to have been exposed to hepatitis C. However, infection rates were highest in the 1970s and 1980s, and this was a time before donated blood and organs were screened for the virus. Since hepatitis C can be asymptomatic for years, a lack of symptoms is no reason to forgo testing.

“Previously, many providers thought screening had low utility: (that) the treatment was terrible and didn’t work well. Today, short courses of all oral treatments are highly effective and can prevent progressive liver disease,” Konerman concluded.

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