Project ECHO

A Game-Changer for patient Care?

Despite dramatic advances in health care, too often the benefits of modern medical science fail to reach patients who need them. Primary care clinicians in local communities frequently don’t have the knowledge or skills to treat complex, common diseases that, left untreated, can lead to unnecessary suffering and death. Patients with these conditions either can’t get treatment locally because the capacity doesn’t exist – or they can’t get treatment at all, because they lack the means to travel to a far-off university medical center where treatment capacity does exist.

At the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, visionary Sanjeev Arora, M.D., has developed a transformative model that breaks down medical “knowledge monopolies” so that doctors, nurses and other clinicians can deliver better care to more people who need it, right in their communities.

Project ECHO uses video communications technology to conduct real-time, case-based learning between specialists at a university medical center and local primary care teams. Primary care clinicians are trained in best practices and are connected to a learning loop where they learn from experts, learn by doing and learn from each other, and gain the skills and support needed to treat patients with complex conditions in their own communities. As a result, patients with complex, chronic conditions—from asthma to HIV to cardiovascular disease to mental illness—can get high-quality, comprehensive treatment from their local providers, who are trained through ECHO and co-manage patients with specialists.

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 care in local communities. The Project ECHO model could become the new norm for medical practice.

As of fall 2011, Project ECHO is running weekly ECHO clinics for 13 chronic conditions in New Mexico, including asthma, chronic pain, hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis and addiction. Replications of the ECHO model are underway in Washington state and Chicago. Many more academic medical centers are gearing up to launch ECHO programs, and others—including federal government agencies and health plans and systems—are actively exploring the ECHO model.

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 and Ashoka’s Changemakers.