4 things to know about Project ECHO, the proposed national model for rural care

Senators have introduced a bill that would expand a telehealth model in place in New Mexico to become the national model for using telehealth in rural care, addressing the health professional shortage and access issues in medically underserved communities.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have called the bill the Enhancing Capacity for Health Outcomes Act, which builds upon Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) based out of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Here are four things to know about Project ECHO and the ECHO Act.

1. Project ECHO was launched in 2003 by Sanjeev Arora, MD, a liver disease doctor in Albuquerque, in response to the number of New Mexicans with hepatitis C who were unable to access care because of the lack of specialists. According to Project ECHO, there were just two clinics in the entire state that treated hepatitis C at that time.

2. The Project ECHO model links specialty and primary care in a hub and spoke model. Specialist teams are the hubs, and primary care clinicians in local communities are the spokes. These units participate in weekly teleECHO clinics which serve as grand rounds. The specialists and primary care physicians collaborate to develop skills and pool knowledge and resources to provide patients the best care.

3. In its 13 years, the ECHO model has helped 3,000 clinicians treat more than 6,000 patients for a number of conditions. Project ECHO operates 39 hubs for 30 diseases and conditions in 22 states and six countries.

4. The ECHO Act introduced by Sens. Hatch and Schatz seeks to bring this model to scale across the country.

"In states with large rural populations like Utah, it's vital that we do everything we can to ensure that patients have access to quality healthcare — no matter where they live," Sen. Hatch said in a statement.

More articles on telehealth:

WeCounsel secures $3.5M in funding for behavioral telehealth
5 answers to clinicians' common questions about telehealth
States most often reimburse for live video telemedicine: This and 5 more key findings on telehealth parity

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