Underappreciation of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by primary care clinicians: limited awareness of surrogate markers of fibrosis

2017 Internal Medicine Journal In Press;

BACKGROUND: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common cause of incidental liver test abnormalities. General practitioners have a key role in identifying people with NAFLD at risk of significant liver disease. Recent specialist guidelines emphasize the use of fibrosis algorithms or serum biomarkers rather than routine liver tests, to assess advanced fibrosis. This study evaluated primary care clinicians' current approach to diagnosis, management and referral of NAFLD. METHODS: A cross-sectional survey of primary care clinicians was undertaken through a structured questionnaire about NAFLD. A convenience sample of general practice clinics and general practice conferences in Metropolitan Brisbane and regional south east Queensland was selected. RESULTS: 108 primary care clinicians completed the survey (participation rate 100%). Fifty-one percent of respondents considered the prevalence of NAFLD in the general population to be =10%. Twenty-four percent of respondents felt that liver enzymes were sufficiently sensitive to detect underlying NAFLD. Most respondents were unsure whether the FIB-4 score (62.7% unsure) or ELF score (63.7% unsure) could help to identify advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis. Although 47% of respondents said they would refer a patient to a Gastroenterologist/Hepatologist if they suspect the patient has NAFLD, 44.1% do not make any referrals. Of concern, 70.6% of clinicians said they were unlikely to refer a patient to Hepatology unless liver function tests are abnormal. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings demonstrate that many primary care clinicians underestimate the prevalence of NAFLD and under-recognise the clinical spectrum of NAFLD and how this is assessed.

Pubmed : 29083080