Albuquerque, NM – September 17, 2014 An innovative model developed at the University of New Mexico to treat chronic and complex diseases in rural and underserved areas of New Mexico has gone global. Project ECHO®, created by Dr. Sanjeev Arora, professor of internal medicine at UNM’s Health Sciences Center, provides specialty care throughout the state to these populations by linking expert, interdisciplinary specialist teams with primary care clinicians through teleECHO clinics in which the experts co-manage patient cases and share their expertise via mentoring, guidance, feedback and education. The model is now being replicated with ECHO partners at 32 ECO hubs at medical centers in the U. S. and seven other hubs overseas.
Project ECHO held its first conference on September 11, 2014, in Albuquerque. Titled “The First Convening of the Global Echo Community, A New Norm for Healthcare,” the event was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others and facilitated by UNMHSC’s Continuing Medical Education & Professional Development program and Burness Communications. The conference brought together funders, policy makers, and healthcare professionals who are involved in ECHO hubs, to share their knowledge and best practices in using the ECHO model, which is a guided practice model rather than a “telemedicine” program where the specialist assumes care of the patient. In the ECHO model, the primary care clinician retains responsibility for managing the patient, operating more independently as his or her specialty knowledge and skills grow.
Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) has received $5 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to populate the program worldwide and nearly $8.5 million from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to train primary care doctors who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients.
To read more about this groundbreaking program, see the September 22, 2014, article by Sayyed Shah, “Project ECHO Resounds Across Ocean,” from UNM DailyLobo.com, reprinted below, and visit the Project ECHO website at http://echo.unm.edu.
Project ECHO resounds across ocean
Project aspires to connect medical specialists with rural providers and patients
By Sayyed Shah
UNM’s Project ECHO has expanded its global reach by inaugurating its first clinic in Asia for HIV and AIDS treatment.
Using the Project ECHO model, specialists in Ahmedabad, India can now communicate with and treat patients in small, rural areas using video conferencing online.
In India there are close to 3 million HIV patients, and less than 600,000 are on treatment, said Dr. Sanjeev Arora, a liver disease specialist and the founder of Project ECHO.
“People there are living in small villages and towns,” Arora said. “They have some treatment sites in the rural areas and small towns, but they do not have the experts there. So we used our models to connect these sites which had broadband to the major centers of excellence in Ahmedabad.”
There is a shortage of specialists in the rural areas of America as well, but the shortage in the rest of the world is much more severe, he said.
“Once we realized that this model can be used for so many diseases in so many different rural areas in the United States, we then asked ourselves, ‘what do we need to make this model in other countries?’ And the answer was: just broadband internet,” Arora said.
Andrea Bradford, leader of communications and editorial affairs at Project ECHO, said the plan to globalize Project ECHO was crafted after its successful operation in New Mexico.
“Our project has been replicated by different universities across the country successfully, and looking at that success we launched our clinics in other parts of the globe,” she said.
She said Project ECHO has 32 hubs across the country connected to more than 1,000 clinics.
Arora said that in countries that have widespread rural areas, there are few to no specialists, and patients often either forego treatment or travel hundreds of miles for help, he said.
Project ECHO was created to train primary care practitioners in the rural areas of New Mexico to help treat patients with Hepatitis C. Arora said there was a time in New Mexico when no primary care practitioners could treat Hepatitis C.
“At that time, out of the 3,000 doctors in New Mexico, not a single primary care doctor was treating Hepatitis C,” Arora said. “I was struggling to meet the demand. [Patients] would travel hundreds of miles to see me and they would make 12 to 16 trips to get one course of treatment. I needed to treat them and I was trying to figure out how I should meet the demand.”
That was when Arora came up with the idea for Project ECHO.
“We created 21 Centers of Excellence to treat Hepatitis C all over the New Mexico,” Arora said. “Each of these centers was run by a primary care clinician. We planned to train these primary care specialists into super specialists.”
Project ECHO officials plan to expand into other Indian cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.
“These are the places where the large university centers are, and we will connect them to these small towns,” Arora said.
Project ECHO is also running clinics in Uruguay, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Dr. Abhilasha, a medical specialist in the Indian city of Hyderabad, said she welcomed Project ECHO and hoped the project would help to bring quality healthcare to poor people in the area.
“We need experts in health units in the rural areas, and this project will help a lot,” she said.
Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.
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