HSC’s Project ECHO provides training and resources to underserved areas

Hsc Project Echo Health Disparities Sm

By Steven Bartolotta

A unique and innovative program called “Project ECHO” is allowing HSC experts to provide training, mentoring and support to physicians who practice specialty care in rural and underserved communities.

The program, which started through part of the “WE HAIL” grant that HSC received in 2019, is an international and national forum for delivering curriculum and mentoring to areas where certain specialty training and physicians are lacking.

“We sent multiple faculty members to the Project ECHO institute at the University of New Mexico for a three-day intensive training in the summer of 2019,” Project Manager Susanna Luk-Jones said. “They were trained in the ECHO model and in September 2019 we launched the series on dementia, followed by geriatrics and the nursing home series.”

With the experience gained from the Dementia ECHO pilot, the Geriatrics ECHO was launched in February of 2020. The impact was instant, in fact, global. The target audience were primary care physicians and, thanks to the virtual format, participants joined from all over the U.S. In fact, a primary care physician from Nepal joined, despite it being midnight local time.

The third ECHO focused on nursing homes began in November of 2020, giving HSC three different series of ECHO trainings. The Nursing Home ECHO gave HSC the opportunity to participate in a national effort to provide free training and support to nursing homes to enhance evidence-based safety practice to protect residents, staff and visitors against COVID-19.

One of 16 HSC Health physicians, nurses and staff members to undergo training, Dr. Sarah Ross, the ECHO Medical Director and Assistant Professor at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, sees the program’s results and growth.

“When you do the ECHO emersion training, they show you other programs who have the global reach, and that’s what makes it so rewarding to participate in,” said Dr. Ross. “We are still fairly new and have plenty of room to grow, and that’s very exciting to think about.”

The program is designed not just for rural areas, but those in need of specialization assistance. A primary care physician might be faced with a patient’s complex condition in their community. Through a Project ECHO training session, that physician can present the case through a HIPAA-compliant virtual environment where specialists offer assistance or ideas to that provider.

These resources give providers and their patients access to expert level solutions for what otherwise might be a hopeless situation.

The statistics illustrate high-level of contacts made by all three HSC Project ECHOs. The Nursing Home ECHO has conducted 48 training sessions, with 831 individuals attending from 68 nursing facilities from 55 different cities. The Geriatrics ECHO has completed 20 training sessions with an attendance of 138 individuals.

“Ideally our attendees bring their own cases to the table,” Dr. Ross said. “They can present the patient case to the group of specialists, who then lead a discussion focused on the primary question or concern. It’s a great way for providers to get advice from specialists, without having to leave their office.”

The training, knowledge and resources give providers on the ground and their patients another way to improve outcomes. Moreover, improving the outcome for patients is the universal goal for everyone locally, nationally and globally.

“It is one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve participated in.  I’ve never been involved in something like this previously,” Dr. Ross said. “It’s very rewarding.  Most of us came to an academic institution because we are interested in teaching, mentoring and creating better care for patients. This is a major extension into our community to create better health care outcomes. I feel like I’m able to have a bigger impact in the lives of patients.”

HSC is working to eliminate health disparities

HSC, driven by its core value to Serve Others First, is committed to helping deliver health care and improving access to all Texans through service and education.

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