Project ECHO: Expanding Access to Specialty Health Care

As readers of the blog know, we are big on highlighting innovations in health.  When we hear of programs and efforts that are working to innovate solutions to challenges facing any aspect of health, those are stories we are eager to share.

This week at the Center for Total Health in Washington, D.C., a blogger roundtable was held to discuss Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), an effort to innovate access to specialty care.  The project’s mission, according to its website, is “to develop the capacity to safely and effectively treat chronic, common, and complex diseases in rural and underserved areas, and to monitor outcomes of this treatment.”

The project, founded and directed by Sanjeev Arora, MD, began with his mentorship of rural physicians in the area of Hepatitis C, and then expanded to include diabetes and substance abuse.  Today, there are ECHO projects for 19 separate health conditions.  The program does not treat individual patients, but rather builds expertise among primary care physicians and clinicians.

Kaiser Permanente’s Ted Eytan, MD, attended this week’s roundtable, which featured Dr. Arora.  Ted has shared his thoughts and impressions about the conversation at his blog.  Other bloggers who attended, including Sarah Kliff with the Washington Post, have written about it as well.  For a terrific overview of Project ECHO, check out this video.

Project ECHO is funded in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and has received support from the New Mexico Legislature, the University of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Department of Public Health.  More recently, though, Project ECHO was awarded nearly $8.5 million over three years as part of the Health Care Innovation Awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  You can read much more about this impressive program and what it’s accomplishing at echo.unm.edu.

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