Project ECHO expansion to help rural docs provide mental health services

Community health providers in New Mexico will consult weekly on complex cases with mental health experts through videoconferencing under an expansion of the successful rural telemedicine program Project ECHO, which offers training sessions to providers on topics such as asthma, dementia, high-risk pregnancy, palliative care and pain management. The VA is testing similar training for rural docs based on the project.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque got funding from the GE Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, according to an announcement.

The program will allow eight community health centers to add staff to focus specifically on treating addictions and mental health issues, according to MedPage Today. The specialists will help this staff identify patients who need treatment, develop treatment plans and implement those plan. Unlike other forms of telemedicine, the specialists will not interact with patients.

Sanjeev Arora, M.D., founder of Project ECHO, said one of the problems is that many patients never follow up on referrals to mental health specialists. The idea is to keep those patients coming to their primary care provider, but to better equip the providers to deal with mental health issues.

If successful, the concept will be replicated at other Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) sites.

Remote mental health services are part of the VA's push in telehealth and in expanded services for women veterans announced earlier this year.

And article in Telemedicine and e-Health recently grouped the obstacles to wider adoption of remote mental health services into three categories: personal; clinical workflow and technology; and licensure, credentialing and reimbursement.

As part of its efforts to overcome those barriers, the American Telemedicine Association recently released guidelines for providing such services through webcams and other interactive video devices.

To learn more:
- read the MedPage Today article
- here's the announcement

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