Health Policy Academy Focuses on Chronic Diseases

E-newsletter Issue #121 | August 29, 2013

Project ECHO has been called a force multiplier and drawn national attention. Launched in 2003 by Dr. Sanjeev Arora at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Project ECHO teams primary care providers in remote communities with specialists in academic medical centers. 

It’s one of several innovative state programs designed to meet the dual goals of improving health outcomes and reducing health care spending. Programs like this will be featured at the Chronic Disease Health Policy Academy scheduled for Sept. 18-19 at the 2013 CSG National Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

Project ECHO—Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes—began with the goal of increasing access to specialty care for hepatitis C treatment. It has expanded beyond hepatitis C and includes many other common, chronic and complex diseases. It aims to improve access to health care services for Medicaid patients throughout the state with complex health care needs while also reducing the cost of that care by using a multidisciplinary team-based approach. 

“Project ECHO has the potential to transform health care as we know it. What began as a truly disruptive innovation in New Mexico for treatment of hepatitis C has the capacity to re-engineer health care delivery and training across the health care system,” Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a 2011 New England Journal of Medicine article that favorably evaluated Project ECHO.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded Project ECHO for years. In June 2013, the GE Foundation endorsed the ECHO model to train and mentor a team of primary care clinicians to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment at community health centers in rural areas of New Mexico. 

“The new mental health clinic funded by the GE Foundation demonstrates the ECHO model’s potential for breaking down health care silos in different ways and support more integrated, better-coordinated patient care,” Arora, said in a press release on the new funding. “By bringing mental health services into the primary care setting, we will ensure comprehensive and more effective treatment for patients with complex conditions.”

Project ECHO brings together primary care providers and specialists to improve care delivery. Virtual clinics, or grand rounds, bring specialized knowledge and best practices that exist primarily in academic medical centers to community-based primary care clinicians. The primary care clinicians learn new ways to care for patients. 

Dr. Janet Collins, director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will provide an overview of chronic diseases at the CSG Health Policy Academy in September. Her overview will cover what chronic diseases are, contributing factors and the financial burden to the health care system, both public and private.

Dr. Bruce Struminger, who will speak during the session, first learned about Project ECHO in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine while he was working in Vietnam, where Hepatitis C is a significant public health issue. Since returning to the U.S., he practices in Navajo Area Indian Health Service. He is an avid user of and participant in the ECHO Hepatitis C, HIV and rheumatology programs. He is working with Project ECHO on replication in Vietnam and the U.S. territories in the Pacific. Struminger has an undergraduate and medical degree from Harvard University and, after foreign service with the CDC, serves as a medical officer with the Indian Health Service.

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