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IIR 22-071 – HSR Study

IIR 22-071
Testing the Effectiveness of NAFLD Clinical Care Pathway in VA Primary Care
Hashem B. El-Serag, MD MPH
Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, TX
Houston, TX
Funding Period: February 2024 - January 2028


Background: In the United States, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects 25-30% of adults and has become a leading cause of chronic liver disease including cirrhosis and liver cancer. The burden of NAFLD and its complications among patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is increasing. Most complications occur among patients with advanced hepatic fibrosis. Treatment (e.g., weight loss) improves patients’ outcomes. Significance: Our data indicate that most VA patients with NAFLD are undiagnosed and untreated. There is an urgent need to address this major gap in care. Most people with NAFLD are seen in primary care settings. The NAFLD Clinical Care Pathway (NCCP) is a multistep, algorithmic process that entails identification of patients at risk through an e-trigger (Step 1), targeted history and lab testing (Step 2), noninvasive testing for hepatic fibrosis using FIB-4 (Step 3), elective additional fibrosis testing with Fibroscan for those with indeterminate FIB-4 (Step 4), and subsequent recommended management. The NCCP has face and content validity based on consensus of multiple stakeholders including VA clinicians, and high efficacy in our preliminary data. We propose to adapt the multicomponent NCCP intervention for use in VA primary care and prospectively test its effectiveness for identification and severity stratification of patients with NAFLD. Our approach is consistent with VA strategic priorities to implement a more “Veteran-centered” approach that improves access to care. Innovation & Impact: This is the first study to examine the effectiveness of any NAFLD clinical care pathway in a VA primary care practice. The design is a cluster-randomized controlled trial with randomization at the level of Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) in primary care, and a state-of-the-art technique to diagnose NAFLD and stage the severity of hepatic fibrosis. Our formative and summative evaluation will provide key information about the feasibility, acceptability and determinants of implementation. The NCCP intervention is a paradigm shift in NAFLD care from haphazard and sporadic care into a systematic, equitable, and evidence-based approach. Specific Aims: Aim 1. Conduct a formative evaluation to assess feasibility and acceptability of the NCCP among patients and providers; adapt the NCCP for prospective testing based on feedback. Aim 2. Examine the effectiveness of the NCCP intervention compared to usual care in improving NAFLD care processes and patient outcomes. Aim 3. Conduct a summative evaluation to identify patient and provider characteristics associated with effectiveness of NCCP and to assess future implementation. Our hypothesis is that NCCP when adapted to Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) in VA primary care considerably increases the identification of patients with NAFLD and those with high-risk NAFLD, and results in an increase in guideline-concordant management. Methodology: The study will be conducted in primary care settings in a single large VA Medical Center. We will conduct patient interviews and focus groups with PACTs to inform adaption of the NCCP. We will then conduct a cluster-randomized trial of 16 PACTs in primary care to compare the effectiveness of NCCP to usual care in improving NAFLD care, with PACTs as unit of randomization and patients as the unit of analysis. The multicomponent intervention includes an e-trigger to identify patients eligible for NAFLD screening and calculate fibrosis scores, a structured provider education on NAFLD management and treatment recommendations, and coordination by an interprofessional team. The primary outcome will be a composite binary variable consisting of NAFLD diagnosis and risk stratification. Secondary outcomes include referral to a weight loss program, referral of patients with advanced fibrosis to hepatology specialty care, and enrollment among those referred to weight loss and hepatology specialty care. Summative evaluation will inform future implementation. Next Steps/Implementation: Our study will provide information needed to support future projects to implement the NCCP in VA primary care settings. The study will also lay the foundation for a subsequent project to examine the adopted intervention’s effect on weight loss and NAFLD biomarkers in patients with high-risk NAFLD.

External Links for this Project

NIH Reporter

Grant Number: I01HX003655-01A2

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None at this time.

DRA: Digestive Diseases
DRE: TRL - Applied/Translational, Treatment - Efficacy/Effectiveness Clinical Trial
Keywords: Comparative Effectiveness, Effectiveness, Healthcare Algorithms
MeSH Terms: None at this time.

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