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Clinical trial promotes rethink of care pathway for patients with liver damage

26 November 2020

A new clinical trial co-led by PA Hospital Hepatologist Professor Elizabeth Powell and Dietitian Dr Ingrid Hickman is set to introduce better and faster assessment and treatment of patients with Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the community.

“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common type of chronic liver disease in Australia, impacting around 30 percent of the population,” Dr Powell said.

“In some patients, it can lead to serious complications such as cirrhosis, which is advanced scarring of the liver. Our LOCal assessment and triage evaluation of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (LOCATE-NAFLD) study will examine a change to the current system of how people with suspected liver disease are treated and see if we can improve outcomes for patients and reduce costs for the health system.”

Dr Powell said currently people with suspected disease can wait a long time to see a specialist liver doctor, an issue LOCATE-NAFLD seeks to address. As part of the trial, patients with diagnosed or suspected NAFLD who are referred to the Hepatology Clinic at Sunshine Coast University Hospital and Logan Hospital will be randomised into either the usual care group or LOCATE-NAFLD group, with the latter receiving an additional, earlier Fibroscan to assess how well their liver is working.

“A Fibroscan is like an ultrasound of the liver that gives us a picture of any scarring. The scan takes 10-20 minutes to complete and will be done by a trained nurse in a local health service clinic at no extra cost to the patient.”

Dr Powell said the results of the scan will help the liver specialist determine the best course of action to support the patient.

“For patients deemed as low risk, their GP will get a letter that explains the results and they will be cared for by their GP until seeing the liver specialist. For patients deemed as high risk, they will be reviewed earlier by the liver specialist at the hospital.”

LOCATE-NAFLD is an initiative of the Australian Centre For Health Services Innovation (AusHSI) and Drs Hickman and Powell are working with colleagues from QUT, USC, UQ, and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute to design and implement it. They say they hope it will help to change the health system for the better.

For more information visit the LOCATE-NAFLD website.

Last updated 18 December 2020
Last reviewed 26 November 2020

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