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Project ECHO Gets Grant to Expand Telehealth Initiative

July 20, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The GE Foundation has announced a three-year, $14 million grant to support Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), an initiative with the aim to expand access to specialty care for underserved patients.

Unlike some forms of 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. 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.

Project ECHO links community providers with specialist care teams at academic medical centers to manage patients who require complex specialty care. Using basic videoconferencing technology, they participate in weekly teleECHO clinics, where primary care providers from multiple sites present patient cases 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.

The Foundation’s new funding will help 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, officials say.

In addition, Project ECHO will partner with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to design and implement a quality improvement ECHO program to support FQHCs in improving effectiveness and efficiency. “Everyone should be able to get the healthcare they need, when they need it, where they live,” said 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.”

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