A new clinic at Grand Junction Gastroenterology seeks to help patients with chronic liver issues and prevent them from having to travel to the Front Range or to Utah for treatment.
The liver clinic opened at Grand Junction Gastroenterology, 1035 Wellington Ave., in September of last year and is operated by Dr. William Shields and Physician Assistant Kirsten Boland.
“The clinic itself is more of a specialized clinic within the gastroenterology practice that focuses on patients with acute and acute chronic liver disease and allows us to provide that service that has either been fragmented or not present in the past,” Shields said.
The clinic focuses on evaluating and managing liver diseases such as hepatitis B and C, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic liver disease.
He said about 30% of the population has fatty liver disease, but that it is asymptomatic.
Patients are typically diagnosed through testing because of risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, intravenous drug use and alcohol abuse.
The baby boomer generation is typically tested for hepatitis C if they received a blood transfusion prior to 1992 when reliable screen testing started.
Shields has typically seen a moderate percentage of his patients deal with liver issues and in late 2018 purchased a FibroScan device that allows him to test a patient’s liver for diseases without doing an intrusive biopsy.
“It’s a way of identifying fat and fibrosis in the liver without doing a liver biopsy,” Shields said.
“It has reduced the amount of liver biopsies.”
Shields said the clinic has been pretty busy since launching and that patients must be referred by a primary care doctor.
The clinic draws from a large area, including patients from Craig, Gunnison and Moab, Utah, among other areas outside the Grand Valley.
Shields said it is common for a gastroenterologist to work with patients on these ailments, and Shields has always had an interest in the liver.
He spent one year of his gastroenterology fellowship in hepatology and has often focused on the liver in his practice.
Boland is a new physician assistant and was drawn to the job because of the focus on the liver. She has a background in pathology.
“It’s been a learning curve as I expected, but Dr. Shields is a fantastic teacher,” she said.
“I’ve learned a lot and feel more comfortable.”