Supporting hepatitis B patients

31 January 2020

Kindly provided by The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand 

An estimated 100,00 people in New Zealand have chronic hepatitis B. 

There is no cure and many of those with the virus may not know they have it. Chronic hepatitis B is often a lifelong condition, with patients at risk of liver failure and liver cancer.

Health professionals need to work together to ensure hepatitis B patients receive the support and treatment they need, and the Hepatitis Foundation of NZ (HFNZ) is taking steps to make that collaboration easier.

GPs can now refer patients with chronic hepatitis B to the HFNZ through a range of electronic channels, including CareSelect, HealthLink, Best Practice and Medtech. Patients can also be referred via email (hepteam@hfnz.nz).

HFNZ provides support to patients and GPs through:

  • The national monitoring programme aimed at improving health outcomes for people living with chronic hepatitis B - there are currently 25,000 people enrolled
  • Its clinicians and nurses providing advice and support to treat people with hepatitis B - they can also refer to secondary care if needed
  • Reminders to patients who are overdue for blood tests 
  • Raising awareness of the virus at community events.

Hepatitis Foundation Clinical Director, Dr Alex Lampen-Smith, says regular blood tests are important and that not everyone with hepatitis B needs anti-viral therapy. 

“Long-term regular blood test monitoring has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality from chronic hepatitis B. We would recommend referring those patients to our service.

“Not everyone with chronic hepatitis B needs anti-viral therapy. At times the decision may be clear-cut - but at others discussion with the patient regarding the risks and benefits of such therapy may be needed. 

Referral to a specialist may also help in these instances, and Alex suggested contacting HFNZ clinicians if you’re unsure whether your patient needs anti-viral therapy.

“Our specialists are also available to advise on non-urgent management decisions,” Alex says. “For assistance with urgent management of severe flares of chronic hepatitis B (or suspected acute infection), with associated hepatic impairment, GPs should call their local on-call gastroenterology service.” 

Hepatitis Foundation specialists can help determine whether a patient needs urgent management.

“This new process aims to support better collaboration between health partners and ensure all people living with hepatitis get vital help, monitoring and treatment.”

For more information about hepatitis visit the HFNZ website.