Telehealth for hepatitis C treatment during COVID-19

On World Hepatitis Day, the DruGS team reflects on preliminary findings from a research project exploring how telehealth has shaped hepatitis treatment during the COVID crisis.

Funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health, this qualitative interview-based project aims to understand the benefits, limitations and effects of the use of telehealth for hepatitis C treatment during the COVID crisis. To date, the team have interviewed GPs, medical specialists, nurses, and peer workers about their experiences of delivering hepatitis C treatment via telehealth.

As project lead investigator Dr Renae Fomiatti explains:

While we know telehealth has been successful in improving regional and rural patient access to healthcare, we don’t know enough about how telehealth has affected hepatitis C treatment experiences during COVID-19, or how useful it is for hep C treatment and care more broadly. This project is helping to address these gaps.

Based on previous research and early analysis of these interviews, some preliminary themes are emerging in the interviews:

  • Experiences of implementing telehealth technologies, resources, and administrative procedures vary widely between organisations depending on whether they had existing systems and technology in place or needed to change their existing systems and gear up quickly in response to COVID-19
  • Telehealth necessitated adopting new and sometimes onerous administrative procedures, particularly relating to changes in organising prescriptions and pathology, but also for appointments and follow-up, and record keeping.
  • Institutional support for telehealth varied widely across healthcare settings. While some practitioners described being satisfied with the organisational support, systems and guidelines put in place, and felt well-prepared to transition to a phone or mixed telehealth model, others felt the burden of change rested with individual staff members.
  • The shift to telehealth may have changed the relationship between prescribing health practitioners and pharmacists, with some participants describing relying on pharmacists to provide more information and care to patients.
  • While some practitioners expressed concern about the impact of telehealth on rapport and the practitioner-patient relationship, others described telehealth as affording new intimacies and knowledge through insights into people’s homes and social relationships.

According to Dr Fomiatti, the information collected for the research will help the research team identify the opportunities offered by telehealth, and optimise the use of telehealth where it is effective and valuable.

The team is now focusing on learning more about patient experiences of telehealth for hepatitis C treatment and care, and are recruiting in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

To find out more about the project or participate in it, email project Research Officer or call her on 0431 483 918.