Project ECHO: Transforming Health Care Education and Delivery

Jun 2, 2011, 6:05 AM, Posted by

Findings from an evaluation of Project ECHO published June 1 online by the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that primary care providers can be trained via videoconferencing technology to manage complex chronic conditions formerly outside their expertise – in this case, hepatitis C – thus expanding their ability to treat very sick patients.

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a disruptive model for health care training and delivery that shows how health care providers everywhere can work collaboratively to provide better care. 

In the NEJM study, primary care providers across a variety of settings in New Mexico were able to treat – and even cure – patients with hepatitis C who previously couldn’t get treatment.  In fact, cure rates for patients treated through ECHO were the same as those for patients treated at a university medical center.  Project ECHO’s videoconferencing clinics also address asthma, mental illness, chronic pain, diabetes and cardiovascular risk reduction, high-risk pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, pediatric obesity, rheumatology and substance.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), calls the model “the future of health care for those who aspire to excellence.” Project ECHO, she says, “demonstrates how health care providers everywhere can—and should—work collaboratively to provide better care.”

With the support of a three-year grant from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, the ECHO model is spreading across the United States.  Replications of ECHO are already underway in Washington state and Chicago, and other potential sites are actively exploring the model.  Several government agencies have expressed strong interest in ECHO, as well.

To learn more about the study and Project ECHO, we encourage you to read some  of the excellent coverage on nextgov and HealthcareITNews.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.