A rural telehealth project in New Mexico could become a national model for caring for chronically ill patients in underserved areas, according to a report published online in the journal Health Affairs.
The effort, called Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, or ECHO, was created to address a severe hepatitis C problem in the state, where fewer than 1,600 of an estimated 34,000 residents with the disease were receiving treatment, according to the report.
The project uses telehealth technology and clinical tools to help primary-care providers develop the skills and expertise they need to treat diseases not usually considered within their scope of practice, according to the report. That allows the providers to offer care for complex health conditions in community-based healthcare sites where such specialty care previously was unavailable. The project has been expanded to offer care for other chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Accountable care organizations being developed under health reform would "would be well-suited to adopting the ECHO model," the report notes. The report was co-written by Dr. Sanjeev Arora, director of the project at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque.
ECHO has received multiple grants, including a three-year, $1.45 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for the hepatitis C pilot; $1.5 million under AHRQ's Minority Research Infrastructure Support Program to support pilot research for four more health conditions; $5 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to replicate the model in six other disease areas and at another site; and $1.2 million from AHRQ to enhance the project's Web-based disease-management tool.