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Innovative Approaches to Engaging Homeless and Marginally Housed Patients in Care: a Case Study of Hepatitis C.

Conti J, Dryden E, Fincke BG, Dunlap S, McInnes DK. Innovative Approaches to Engaging Homeless and Marginally Housed Patients in Care: a Case Study of Hepatitis C. Journal of general internal medicine. 2023 Jan 1; 38(1):156-164.

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BACKGROUND: Homeless and marginally housed (HAMH) individuals experience significant health disparities compared to housed counterparts, including higher hepatitis C virus (HCV) rates. New direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications dramatically increased screening and treatment rates for HCV overall, but inequities persist for HAMH populations. OBJECTIVE: This study examines the range of policies, practices, adaptations, and innovations implemented by Veteran Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs) in response to Veterans Health Administration (VHA)'s 2016 HCV funding allocation to expand provision of HCV care. DESIGN: Ethnographic site visits to six US VAMCs varying in size, location, and availability of Homeless Patient-Aligned Care Teams. Semi-structured qualitative interviews informed by the HCV care continuum were conducted with providers, staff, and HAMH patients to elicit experiences providing and receiving HCV care. Semi-structured field note templates captured clinical care observations. Interview and observation data were analyzed to identify cross-cutting themes and strategies supporting tailored HCV care for HAMH patients. PARTICIPANTS: Fifty-six providers and staff working in HCV and/or homelessness care (e.g., infectious disease providers, primary care providers, social workers). Twenty-five patients with varying homeless experiences, including currently, formerly, or at risk of homelessness (n = 20) and stably housed (n = 5). KEY RESULTS: All sites experienced challenges with continued engagement of HAMH individuals in HCV care, which led to the implementation of targeted care strategies to better meet their needs. Across sites, we identified 35 unique strategies used to find, engage, and retain HAMH individuals in HCV care. CONCLUSIONS: Despite highly effective, widely available HCV treatments, HAMH individuals continue to experience challenges accessing HCV care. VHA's 2016 HCV funding allocation resulted in rapid adoption of strategies to engage and retain vulnerable patients in HCV treatment. The strategies identified here can help healthcare institutions tailor and target approaches to provide sustainable, high-quality, equitable care to HAMH individuals living with HCV and other chronic illnesses.

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