Project ECHO
Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) expands access to healthcare by helping primary care clinicians in rural and underserved areas manage complex diseases. They do this by consulting with medical specialists via video conferencing technology.
Credit: John Arnold

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) was recently awarded a three-year, $14-million grant from the GE Foundation to support ECHO’s game-changing care delivery model to provide quality healthcare regardless of where people live.

For millions of Americans, access to specialty care for common, complex health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or chronic pain is extremely challenging. Many patients must travel hours in order to see a specialist, while others forgo the specialty care they need. Project ECHO, based at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, creates new capacity to treat chronic complex conditions in local communities by expanding the skill sets of the providers who are already there. It links community providers with specialist care teams at academic medical centers to manage patients who require complex specialty care.

Using basic videoconferencing technology, providers participate in weekly teleECHO™ clinics, where they present patient cases from multiple sites and work with a multi-disciplinary team of experts to determine treatment. The team mentors community providers to treat conditions that previously were outside their expertise. Unlike telemedicine, which facilitates one-to-one connections in order to provide patient care, Project ECHO creates one-to-many connections among providers to exponentially increase treatment capacity.

“Everyone should be able to get the healthcare they need, when they need it, where they live,” says Dr. Sanjeev Arora, the liver disease specialist and social innovator who created Project ECHO. “This support from the GE Foundation will help make access to high-quality specialty care a reality for people in rural and underserved communities. In the process, it will save and improve many, many lives.”

The funding will help dramatically increase the number of U.S. federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) participating in Project ECHO nationwide. Through ECHO, community-based primary care providers train in a select specialty area, such as HIV/AIDS or behavioral health, so that patients can get the specialty care they need in their own communities.

“The ECHO model is transformative,” says Dr. David Barash, executive director, Global Health Portfolio, and chief medical officer for the GE Foundation. “Instead of making patients travel to where care is available, as the current system does, ECHO makes care available to patients where they live, empowering frontline primary care clinicians and creating new treatment capacity in rural and underserved communities.”

Project ECHO launched in 2003 at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center with a focus on treating hepatitis C and has since grown significantly across the globe and across numerous other health conditions. In the U.S., dozens of academic medical centers operate teleECHO clinics that address more than 40 health conditions. Globally, teleECHO clinics are running in 10 countries. The Department of Veterans Affairs has its own version of Project ECHO, and the Department of Defense has a global ECHO chronic pain management program.