Patients in remote areas are finding specialized care through Project ECHO

June 1, 2019

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A single mother lives five hours from a hepatitis C clinic and doesn’t have a reliable car or childcare available to make the trip for treatment. By the time she does get to a specialist, it’s too late. The long-term infection has developed into cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The scenario is all too familiar for Dr. Sanjeev Arora. It’s a scenario he and our company are determined to change.

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Millions of people die every year from curable and treatable diseases because they don’t have access to adequate health care. In certain areas of the world, specialists are not available, and community physicians do not have the training to diagnose and treat complex diseases.

Dr. Sanjeev Arora

Distinguished professor of medicine, University of New Mexico Health Science Center

To help patients get the right care at the right time and at the right place, Dr. Arora created Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). The project is led by medical experts who use videoconferencing to train doctors and other clinicians in remote areas to provide excellent specialty care for patients in their communities.

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The effort aligns perfectly with our company’s commitment to support programs that expand health care capabilities and access to high-quality care. Our company’s Foundation made a five-year pledge of $7 million to dramatically expand ECHO programs in India, where health care providers are stretched thin and often lack training in complex and chronic diseases

“In India, more than 1,000 people die every day from tuberculosis – a treatable disease,” says Dr. Arora. “There are also many farmers who live in remote areas and do not have access to specialized care for mental health. The suicide rate among young farmers is high.”

“What started as a seed of an idea has grown into a global effort. We now have programs in 35 countries to transform the delivery of medical knowledge,” says Dr. Arora.

In addition, funds from our company’s Foundation are helping ECHO replicate the model in Vietnam, where nearly 20 partnerships with major government institutions, academic centers and non-profits have already been established, five of which have become ECHO hubs.

The approach is having such a positive impact in India that the government plans to adopt the ECHO model to improve health care for rural India.

Clinician consulting two women in India

“I’m grateful to have the Foundation’s support and other partners who are focused on the same mission: to improve care for underserved people all over the world.”

Dr. Arora

An idea takes shape

Project ECHO has come a long way from its starting point: a single hepatitis C program in New Mexico.

“It was 2003, and about 30,000 people in New Mexico had been diagnosed with hepatitis C. Many would travel hundreds of miles to reach my clinic, because there were no specialists near them,” says Dr. Arora. “I didn’t have enough time to see everybody. This led to a lot of soul searching and thinking about what I could do to have a bigger impact.”

Then, he got an idea. “I was surrounded by online technology. I used it to talk to my daughter at school and to hold videoconferences with peers. Why not use it to train more health care workers?”

Today, Dr. Arora’s idea has grown into virtual teleECHO™ programs, offering training on more than 70 conditions, including cancer, diabetes, hepatitis C, HIV, mental health illnesses and tuberculosis. Over 300 hubs, or academic centers, are taking part in online mentoring programs for community health care professionals. Take a look.

More training hubs and other program goals

There’s a substantial need to improve the delivery of health care in India and Vietnam. To address this need, in partnership with our company’s Foundation, Project ECHO has four goals, including adding more training sites and more training for complex diseases. Learn more.

Improving access to reduce the burden of disease around the world

Including support of ECHO, our company’s Foundation has invested approximately $50 million to support the health and well-being targets found in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global effort to improve the lives of people everywhere. The funds provide a much-needed boost to programs that can help improve access to care for non-communicable diseases. Continue reading.

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