Nationally more than six million Australians suffer from chronic liver disease with more than 7000 deaths a year. The common causes are alcohol, hepatitis C and now obesity-related fatty liver disease and the average age of deaths is mid 50s.
Now Australia's National Health and Medical Research Commission (NHMRC) has announced major funding for researchers at Flinders University and partners at several major SA and WA public hospitals to develop a model of care to improve outcomes for at-risk patients.
"With the average age of death of these patients in their mid 50s, this represents a huge loss for individuals, their families and the community," said Alan Wigg lead investigator in the $900,000 grant research.
"The program we're developing will aim to address the elephant in the room, that is the economic and health system cost of these patients and their devastating disease.
The program were developing will aim to address the elephant in the room
"It will help address the multiple and complex barriers that prevent health systems from being able to implement many of the highly effective treatments that currently exist," said Associate Professor Wigg
A previous Deloitte study indicates the cost of managing the rising tide of chronic liver disease - including lost productivity - now exceeds $50 billion a year in Australia alone.
A previous trial by Flinders University, Flinders Medical Centre and other SA Health researchers showed that patients managed under a chronic liver failure program supervised by liver specialists within a coordinated care model had a 48% lower rate of liver-related emergency readmissions and significantly improved (67.7% versus 37.2 %) three-year survival than patients managed with standard care.
Not being managed in the hospital with a coordinated care model was independently associated with a 2.5-fold higher risk of mortality.
"We argue that some simple measures, including regular contact with specially trained nurses, can greatly improve outcomes for this chronic condition which sometimes is poorly understood and mismanaged by patients and their medical and nursing systems," said Associate Professor Alan Wigg, an gastroenterologist and researcher at Flinders University.
The new project aims to reduce emergency department admissions, improve mortality rates, give patients more nursing support following discharge and more health information and better general quality of care. It is hoped that benefits will also be reduced overall cost to the health system.
"Cirrhosis is a very serious and complex form of liver disease which is often not well managed," said Associate Professor Leon Adams, from the Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital in Perth, which is one of the four Australian hospitals involved in the latest research.
"Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects one in four Australian adults and has been increasing in parallel with the rising prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the community.
"A minority of people develop cirrhosis, however this appears increasingly common with NAFLD cirrhosis the fastest growing indication for liver transplantation in Australia and New Zealand."