Sanjeev Arora, MD addresses ECHO conference
UNM Project ECHO founder Sanjeev Arora, MD, addresses an international conference focused on the innovative telementoring and telehealth model. Arora, a liver specialist at the UNM School of Medicine, says the model has the potential to collectively impact the lives of a billion people over the next 10 years.
Credit: John Arnold

Health care experts from around the world are in Albuquerque this week to learn more about Project ECHO, a groundbreaking telementoring model developed at the University of New Mexico.

The conference, “A New Norm for Healthcare: The First Convening of the Global ECHO Community,” is an opportunity for health care providers, policy makers, researchers, philanthropists and others who are using the model to discuss best practices and learn from one another, according to Sanjeev Arora, MD, Project ECHO founder and a distinguished professor at the UNM School of Medicine.

“During this conference we plan to cement our collaboration with our partners to improve care for underserved patients around the world,” Arora said. “The ECHO model has the potential to collectively impact the lives of a billion people over the next 10 years.”

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Arora kicked off the event Thursday at Hotel Albuquerque. The conference runs through Saturday and will include presentations and panel discussions on a wide range of health care issues relating to Project ECHO and its transformative role in the U.S. health care system. The conference will also include presentations on how to strengthen collaborations and share resources, including ECHO’s role in force multiplication to expand the number of providers who can deliver specialty care.

“Project ECHO helps provide health care to people where they live. That’s especially important in a rural state like New Mexico,” said Martinez, who along with state lawmakers gave telemedicine in New Mexico a $1.1 million boost last year. The state budget included about $600,000 for the Department of Health to expand telemedicine services across the state and a $500,000 increase for Project ECHO.

“Project ECHO has used the power of technology to improve the health and lives of people living in areas where there is limited access to health care,” Martinez said.

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is different from traditional telemedicine models in which specialists provide direct care or consultation to patients via video conferencing technology. Under the ECHO model, specialists at an academic health center or other large medical hub consult with primary care providers in rural or underserved communities on how best to treat complex conditions. This mentoring and training – through teleECHO video conferencing clinics – expands access to care, and research has shown that it is improving care.

Arora, a liver specialist, developed the program in 2003 to help family doctors, nurse practitioners and other primary care providers better treat hepatitis C patients who lived in rural New Mexico and could not easily travel to Albuquerque to meet with a specialist. The model has since expanded to many medical specialties and has been replicated all over the world, including at other academic health centers, the Veterans Administration and U.S. Department of Defense.

“UNM’s Project ECHO has dramatically increased access to specialty care for tens of thousands of patients – not only here in New Mexico, but around the world,” said Paul B. Roth, MD, UNM chancellor for health sciences and dean of the UNM School of Medicine. “This week’s conference is reinforcing ECHO’s success, as well as exploring its potential to further transform the way we deliver specialty care to rural and underserved communities.”

Media are invited to attend the conference’s opening session:

WHAT: A New Norm for Healthcare: The First Convening of the Global ECHO Community. The conference will focus on UNM’s Project ECHO, a groundbreaking telehealth model that increases access to specialty medical care in rural and underserved areas.

WHEN: Sept. 11, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

WHERE: Hotel Albuquerque, 800 Rio Grande Blvd. NW