Telemedicine Project ECHO Model for Rural Health

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Telemedicine Project ECHO Model for Rural Health

Editor’s update Feb 27, 2017 regarding Project Echo:
On Nov. 29, 2016 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act by a vote of 97-0. The House of Representatives also passed the bill on Dec. 6. allowing President Obama to sign the law. For a reminder about this important rural and telemedicine related initiative, please reference our original article which follows…

The practice of telemedicine is rapidly gaining popularity among healthcare providers as it enables improved care coordination and remote patient monitoring. While telemedicine is mainly used for diagnosis and treatment of acute conditions, it can also play a large part in the care of those with chronic diseases as demonstrated by Project ECHO.

Project ECHO

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a program involving the use of telehealth technology to help providers treat patients with chronic conditions such as Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), which afflicts over 3 million people in the United States alone. For those living in rural and remote areas, long-term disease management is not easy, and in some cases, even inaccessible.

The idea behind the program is to effectively treat disease in underserved areas, which usually do not have physicians trained in specialty treatment. The program model focuses on increasing access to specialty treatment by educating primary care providers in managing specialized conditions such as HCV. Primary care teams are partnered with specialist teams via TeleECHO clinics to enable sharing of resources for disease management .

A 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the ECHO model is proven to be effective in treatment for HCV in underserved areas. When a group treated with the ECHO model was compared to a group treated at a medical center, the rates of sustained virologic response (HCV undetectable in the blood) were shown to be similar.

The idea of using telehealth technology to teach providers new skills is revolutionary and can help improve:

  • access to care in rural and underserved communities
  • quality and safety of care delivery
  • efficiency and consistency in healthcare

The leaders of this program hope that their efforts will help promote access to care for those who are living in rural and/or underserved areas.

ECHO Across the United States

In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics became a “superhub” for Project ECHO in order to expand the programs reach to children with chronic diseases. In November 2016, the Senate passed the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, which will allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study Project ECHO and potentially expand it as a national model for telehealth in rural healthcare. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the original senators to introduce the bill, met with families in Utah who used services offered by the ECHO Act. He said, “Some of these individuals had health conditions that required specialized care or could be managed much closer to home by health professionals they know and trust. By using technology to connect patients and providers, this bill will benefit Utah’s families by helping them receive the care they need, when they need it.”

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) was created by Dr. Sanjeev Arora and launched in 2003 in New Mexico. Today Project ECHO operates across 110 hubs, serving over 55 conditions in 21 countries, with a goal to touch 1 billion lives by 2025.

Author: Apoorva Anupindi

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