Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) was launched by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in 2011 to connect healthcare specialists with rural providers and their patient populations through a telehealth platform. The program created a hub-and-spoke model, in which specialists at a hub hospital would conduct virtual teleECHO clinics for providers in rural health systems, or spoke sites.
The original program focused on providers treating patients with Hepatitis C and was favorably reviewed in a study that year by the Health and Human Services Department’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
“The key to this study is that technology helped local physicians and other providers deliver safe, high-quality care within their own – in most cases, underserved – communities,” AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, said in a June 2011 report in the New England Journal of Medicine. “We’ve known that geography can play a role in timely and appropriate treatment, especially in managing complex conditions such as Hepatitis C; however, it doesn’t have to mean destiny.”
In 2012, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs used the model in a nationwide rollout of the Specialty Care Access Network (SCAN) ECHO program. Since then, several health systems, particularly in the south and west, have adopted the model to develop telehealth programs for population health initiatives.
“Project ECHO is bridging geographic divides to connect physicians and experts with patients in underserved, rural areas,” Barbara McAneny, immediate past chair of the American Medical Association, said of the new bill. “An exemplary model of using new technologies to improve patient care, Project ECHO has potential to bolster access to specialists, reduce incidence of chronic disease and rein in costs through reduced travel and fewer ER visits. The AMA believes the ECHO Act would provide policymakers with critical information to expand such models to improve clinical practice.”
“Hawaii launched two ECHO clinics only three months ago and we’ve already provided over 100 hours of continuing medical education and we have had inquiries to start four more ECHO clinics on important local topics,” added Kelly Withy, MD, PhD, director of the Hawaii-Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. “Healthcare providers love it because they are learning by discussing interventions to help their own patients. It’s very gratifying and a win-win all around.”