Telehealth improves chronic care for underserved patients

Using state-of-the-art telehealth technology, a New Mexico-based program has been able to partner with primary-care providers in underserved areas to provide specialty care to patients with a variety of chronic conditions including hepatitis C, asthma, diabetes and HIV/AIDS, according to a new study published in the current issue of Health Affairs.

With the initiative--called Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes)--primary-care doctors receive orientation and training at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine in Albuquerque, where they are instructed about ECHO's communication technology and weekly telehealth clinics.

According to the study, fewer than 1,600 New Mexico residents had been receiving treatment for hepatitis C and chronic liver disease before Project ECHO began its pilot program in 2003. As of March 2011, 298 Project ECHO teams across New Mexico have collaborated on more than 10,000 specialty care consultations for hepatitis C and other chronic diseases.

ECHO is being replicated at a second academic health center at the University of Washington, with a focus initially on hepatitis C, for providers serving Native American populations; it also is growing to include rural sites, such as migrant health worker clinics and family health centers. The University of Chicago also has launched an ECHO program to manage heart disease among African American men.

For more information:
- see the Health Affairs study
- view CMIO article

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