Physicians and HCV: Don't Be Afraid to Say 'Cure'

Hope continues to grow for patients with hepatitis C.
Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) in the treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) have changed the face of hepatology forever.

The miracle drugs have provided a cure for upwards of 95 percent of individuals involved in clinical trials for medications such as Sovaldi and Harvoni. Yet even with these astounding medical advances, patients still fear the worst when faced with an HCV diagnosis.

In an interview with CURE Hepatitis C, Donald Jensen, M.D., recently retired professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Chicago Medical Center, shared his thoughts on why physicians and specialty pharmacists alike need to work to ease patients’ minds and assure them that there is a cure to the disease.

Dr. Jensen makes special efforts with his patients to educate them more about their infection. In addition to providing them with informational websites such as the American Liver Foundation (ALF) web site and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site, he allows patients to email him directly with information they have found online so that he may check the validity before using it as a reference.

“A lot of physicians don’t give their patients their email address. They don’t want patients to have their email address … because then they become legally liable for information that they transmit,” Dr. Jensen said. “I’ve never been really concerned about that. It’s counseling that I’m doing, I’m not telling them what treatment to do or that sort of thing. It’s more helping them with educational information.”

With the amount of misinformation circulating about HCV, it makes sense to provide patients with that extra care. In fact, many patients are told by their referring physicians that they have a death sentence upon diagnosis, according to Dr. Jensen, which is severely misguided.

In addition to being told that they are going to die from their liver disease, patients are also led to believe there is no cure for HCV.

“[DAAs] represent a cure for hepatitis C and that’s an important message that we need to get out. This is a curable disease. It can prevent other complications down the road, or most of the complications down the road, if someone is cured of their disease,” Dr. Jensen said. “For years, we as physicians avoided the ‘cure’ word and used ‘sustained response,’ and sustained response is not the same as cure. It does not connote the same information that cure does.”

Dr. Jensen is a huge advocate of physicians using the word “cure” in relation to HCV rather than sustained virologic response (SVR).

“I think we need to say [cure], not only to reassure the people who have had a sustained response, but also to encourage people that haven’t yet been treated to undergo treatment,” Dr. Jensen noted. “If they don’t think it’s a curable disease, they’re going to say, ‘well why should I get tested? Why should I get treated?’ I think using the ‘cure’ word right up front is very important.”

Dr. Jensen even went so far as to organize a reception at the University of Chicago for patients who were cured between the years of 2011 and 2013. Forty-two patients attended the reception and some even gained enough courage to speak about their disease despite the stigma attached to it.

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