Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have introduced a bill calling for expansion of New Mexico's Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) as a national telehealth model.
The health IT pilot launched in 2003 in rural New Mexico to connect rural doctors to specialists and has been touted for its success in treating hepatitis C. It was the model for the Department of Veterans Affairs' Specialty Care Access Network--Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (SCAN-ECHO) program.
The new legislation, called the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, would require:
- The Department of Health and Human Services to work with the Health Resources & Services Administration to prioritize analysis of the model, its impacts on provider capacity and workforce issues, and evidence of its effects on quality of patient care.
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on how increased adoption of a Project ECHO model might boost efficiencies and potential cost savings and improve healthcare.
- The HHS secretary to submit a report to Congress on the findings these two reports, including ways such models have been funded by HHS and how to integrate the models into existing funding streams and grant proposals.
"Project ECHO is bridging geographic divides to connect physicians and experts with patients in underserved, rural areas," Barbara McAneny, immediate past chair of the American Medical Association, says in an announcement. "An exemplary model of using new technologies to improve patient care, Project ECHO has potential to bolster access to specialists, reduce incidence of chronic disease, and rein in costs through reduced travel and fewer ER visits."