Add the prestigious Heinz Award to Dr. Sanjeev Arora's long list of accolades.
The University of New Mexico physician is one of five recipients of the $250,000 award for his work in creating and expanding Project ECHO, the innovative telemedicine program that increases access to high quality specialty medical care in rural and underserved communities.
The Heinz Awards were established by Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation to honor the memory of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. Arora was honored in the public policy category.
Project ECHO, or Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, is a growing national and global model that uses widely available video conferencing technology and case-based learning to help primary care clinicians manage chronic, complex conditions that they – as generalists – were not trained to manage in school. These conditions include Hepatitis C, HIV, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and psychiatric disorders.
“Millions of Americans live in what can be considered medical ‘deserts,’ communities that lack access to medical specialists expert in treating chronic conditions like Hepatitis C, HIV and mental illness," said Teresa Heinz, chairwoman of the Heinz Family Foundation. "More than a decade ago, Sanjeev Arora set out to change that, and through Project ECHO, he succeeded. What began as a way to educate medical professionals in rural New Mexico has become not only a national, but even an international model for community-based telemedicine, and it is providing first-class care to patients who otherwise would not have access to such services."
A liver disease specialist at UNM, Arora originally established Project ECHO to address his frustrations with his inability to provide care to the thousands of New Mexico residents suffering from Hepatitis C. Many were driving hundreds of miles to seek treatment from far-away specialists. Today, at Project ECHO headquarters in Albuquerque, UNM medical specialists from many disciplines consult via video link with family doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other primary care providers to help them to treat complex diseases.
“Project ECHO not only helps patients struggling to find treatment close to home, but it also provides valuable education to medical professionals looking to expand their areas of expertise and address the most pressing health needs in their communities," Arora said. "It is, as we say, a ‘force multiplier.’”
Project ECHO’s footprint has expanded from its origins in New Mexico to more than a dozen states, including Illinois, Nevada, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington, as well as to India and Uruguay. It now maintains 29 hubs in the United States and four more globally that are connected to 700 clinics. It is working directly with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and also with the Department of Health and Human Services through a demonstration project supported by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation.
“Nothing is more fulfilling than to have a measurable impact on people across the country and around the world who can’t get the quality health care they need,” Arora said.
Since he founded Project ECHO in 2003, Arora and the program have received numerous awards and honors. For more on the 19th Heinz Awards and the foundation's other recipients, visit: http://www.heinzawards.net/recipients.