Patients with Hepatitis C benefit from attentive care coordination

May 20, 2021

When Nathan Blake found out he had Hepatitis C, he was devastated. He tried to get treatment, but his insurance company denied coverage, even after he paid for all the required bloodwork out of his own pocket.

“It was super frustrating,” Blake said. “I felt like giving up. I didn’t know where to go.”

Then a friend told him about Venice Family Clinic.

“When I came to the Clinic, I saw Dr. [Gilmore] Chung and immediately he just made me feel very comfortable. He just looked at me and said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ He helped me tremendously. Everyone at the Clinic made it really easy for me.”

About eight weeks later, Blake was cured, thanks in large part to the effort of the Clinic’s Hep C care coordinator, Leslie O’Hara. She’s the glue that keeps patients connected to their Hep C treatment. 

“I try to stay in close contact with the patient. I remind them about their appointments and to get their labs done,” O’Hara said. “What I really like about my job is I get to build good relationships with our patients. Also, Hep C is one of those rare chronic diseases that you can tell someone they’ve been cured. That’s very rewarding to me to be able to do that.”

Dedication to patient success

All Clinic patients are automatically tested for Hep C, unless they opt out. Hep C, a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and possible long-term liver damage, historically has been more prevalent among older adults, as someone can have Hep C for decades without knowing it.

“It’s important that we test for Hep C because, if left untreated, it can cause serious problems and even lead to liver failure,” said Dr. Jessica Stroik, one of Venice Family Clinic’s Hep C specialists. “The good news is Hep C responds well to antiviral medication and can actually be cured.”

To that end and with the support of a grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. Venice Family Clinic has set a goal of testing 2,000 patients for the virus that causes Hep C, including more than 100 people experiencing homelessness. Because of care coordination O’Hara provides to all of our Hep C-positive patients, we’ve reached that goal ahead of schedule.

These days, Hep C has become more prevalent among our younger patients because of intravenous drug use, as sharing needles can pass infected blood from one person to another. That’s why our Hep C care coordination is housed within our Common Ground program, which offers a range of services including testing for Hep C, HIV and STDs; a syringe services program; and a weekly buprenorphine clinic.

This is how O’Hara’s workflow goes: Primary care clinicians refer patients who have tested positive for Hep C to her. Because Hep C medications come from specialty pharmacies, O’Hara files for prior authorizations with insurance companies for our patients. If there’s any kind of issue at this point, she works hard to resolve it. O’Hara then follows up with patients to ensure they receive and take their medication, and sets up lab work and clinician appointments for check-ups.

That dedication to patient well-being is what made patient Blake’s experience so successful.

“I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t found this place. I’m sober today because of the help I got,” he said. “A big reason I drank more was because I had Hep C, because I was trying to forget. Now that I’m free from Hep C, I feel like I’m able to live life. I have a whole new beginning.”