Washington Post (08.08.12)
Project ECHO is a medical learning collaborative that aims to rethink how health care can best be delivered from a distance. The idea for the project was borne from the experience of Albuquerque-based Dr. Sanjeev Arora, one of only a handful of hepatitis C specialists in New Mexico.
In 2003, patients would wait eight months for an office visit with Arora. “Patients would make about 12 to 18 trips for treatment, and each one might be 200 miles,” he said. “These people were very sick. And we started asking, why is this happening and how can we fix it?”
Hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment monitoring could be delivered by primary care doctors, Arora reasoned. He reached out to them and found 21 across the state who were interested in receiving weekly training in hepatitis C disease management. “You can’t be an expert in everything, but you can take on an area of special interest,” he explained.
Now run by the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Project ECHO has expanded to work on 15 conditions, mostly common diseases that cause a high number of deaths and can be easily managed in a primary care setting. Project ECHO increases the capacity of health care in the state without adding a single doctor.
Arora said physicians start off working with him on each hepatitis C patient, but he eventually spends less time consulting with these “junior specialists.” A study found doctors who participate in Project ECHO become significantly more confident in their ability to diagnose and treat hepatitis C than they were prior to enrolling.
Last month, Arora received an $8.5 million federal grant to expand Project ECHO to Nevada and Washington state.