Project ECHO

A Force Multiplier: Spreading Medical Knowledge, Expanding Health Care Capacity

    • February 15, 2011

In New Mexico, specialized knowledge for treating hepatitis C, a lethal but curable disease, was confined to a single clinic in Albuquerque. An estimated 28,000 New Mexicans had the disease, but fewer than 5 percent were getting life-saving treatment.

Determined to ensure treatment for all patients, Sanjeev Arora, MD, a leading social innovator and liver disease specialist at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, developed Project ECHO to make specialized medical knowledge available wherever it’s needed to save and improve lives.

Project ECHO creates communities of practice where primary care providers and specialists work together with the goals of gaining and spreading new medical knowledge and applying it to patient care. The linchpins of these communities are weekly virtual clinics similar to the grand rounds major teaching hospitals use to educate doctors on the latest medical research and treatments.

During these “teleclinics,” primary care providers from multiple sites present their cases to the specialist teams, discuss new developments relating to their patients, and determine treatment. Specialists serve as mentors and colleagues, sharing their medical knowledge and expertise with primary care providers.

Primary care teams that participate in ECHO are part of a learning community, where they develop the skills and receive the support they need to provide comprehensive, complex treatment for patients where they live. These teams become new, community-based centers of excellence.

By putting the best available medical knowledge into the hands of everyday clinical practitioners, Project ECHO exponentially expands the capacity of the health care workforce to provide high-quality, specialized care to patients in their own communities. This is what Dr. Arora calls the “force multiplier effect,” which he describes as a “logarithmic expansion” in the health care system’s ability to provide better care for more people.

Project ECHO is transforming medical practice and care delivery. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation believes that Project ECHO one day will be the new norm for best medical practice.

With support from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, the Project ECHO model is spreading—both inside New Mexico and across the country.

Project ECHO clinics for more than a dozen chronic conditions are now operating in 74 communities across New Mexico and engaging 300 primary care doctors and their teams and thousands of patients. The University of Washington was the first to replicate the model and is now deploying it across an area that includes Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. The University of Chicago has replicated the ECHO model as well.

Numerous government agencies, leading academic medical centers, health plans, and even other countries are actively exploring and implementing the ECHO model. In June 2012, Project ECHO signed an agreement with the Department of Defense to create a global chronic pain management program for the armed forces. Among the academic medical centers implementing ECHO are Harvard University, the University of Utah, the University of Nebraska, and the University of South Florida. India and Brazil both have ECHO programs, and the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland are also seriously investigating the model.

In May 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its award of an $8.5 million Health Care Innovation grant for Project ECHO to expand its operations in New Mexico and Washington.

In 2007, Project ECHO was voted one of three winners from among more than 300 entries in the global Disruptive Innovations in Health and Health Care competition sponsored by RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio and Ashoka’s Changemakers.

Video Series

Project ECHO

Bringing specialty health care to all through disruptive model of health care education and delivery.

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More About Project ECHO

Expanding care through connectivity.

Through Project ECHO, academic medical centers share specialized knowledge with local clinicians, bringing evidence-based medicine to everyday medical practice and dramatically expanding existing capacity to treat chronic conditions.

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