The University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO will become better integrated with health systems across the country with a focus on improving the delivery of health care in rural areas, thanks to newly passed federal legislation.
Senate Bill 2873, the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, had bipartisan sponsorship and passed by unanimous vote. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
“Families across New Mexico, including in our rural and tribal communities, deserve access to high-quality health care no matter where they live,” Heinrich said in a statement. “Project ECHO is using technology to train and connect health care specialists to patients in our underserved communities. We have already seen it succeed in addressing some of our health care system's biggest disparities in rural areas of our state. I'm proud this pioneering work originated in New Mexico has become the national model for telehealth.”
"All New Mexicans deserve quality health care no matter where they live, and Project ECHO has helped ensure rural patients can get treatment without having to drive hours to see a specialist," added Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who also supported the bill. "This is the kind of innovation that stems from a community coming together to create a solution that best meets its needs. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I was proud to support this project from the beginning. Now, as a cosponsor of the ECHO Act, I am thrilled to see New Mexico's model become the foundation for a national strategy to provide quality, accessible health care to all of our rural communities."
Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) was launched in 2003 by Sanjeev Arora, MD, professor in UNM’s Department of Internal Medicine, to improve access to care for patients with hepatitis C in underserved communities and prisons in New Mexico.
Arora, a liver disease specialist, developed the model after he realized that one of the greatest barriers to providing care was a lack of trained clinicians who could treat the condition.
He reasoned that if primary care clinicians could receive ongoing education in best practices, mentoring and guidance from a team of specialists via tele-technology, they would feel more confident in treating their hepatitis C patients locally. The program has now been implemented by 103 partners – 64 in the U.S. and 39 internationally.
“Medical knowledge is exploding, but it’s often not traveling the last mile to ensure that patients get the right care in the right place at the right time,” said Arora, Project ECHO’s director. “If we can leverage technology to spread best practices through case-based learning and mentoring of providers, we can move knowledge – instead of patients – to get better care to rural and underserved communities across the country.”
The ECHO Act aims to better integrate the Project ECHO model into health systems across the country by:
- Requiring the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Health Resources & Services Administration to prioritize analysis of the ECHO model, its impacts on provider capacity and workforce issues and evidence of its effects on quality of patient care.
- Requesting a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report regarding opportunities for increased adoption of such models, efficiencies and potential cost savings from such models, ways to improve health care through such models and field recommendations to advance the use of such models.
- Requiring the HHS secretary to submit a report to Congress on the findings of the GAO report and the HHS report, including ways such models have been funded by HHS and how to integrate these models into current funding streams and innovative grant proposals.
To learn more about Project ECHO, please visit http://echo.unm.edu.