New Mexico nonprofit brings specialty training to primary care doctors

It’s a challenge to treat patients with hepatitis C and other chronic conditions, especially in areas with a dearth of specialists. Enter Project ECHO, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based nonprofit that uses video conferencing to teach primary care doctors how to treat complex patients.

Project ECHO has been training hundreds of doctors in 30 states and 15 countries around the world for 13 years, reports STAT. What’s up next is a move by its founder, Sanjeev Arora, M.D., who’s also a practicing endocrinologist, to become self-sufficient--and even to accept private insurance and Medicare.

Two of the primary benefits of the program are its ability to keep patients under the watchful eye of their own primary care physician--instead of referring them to a specialist, which can result in uneven care and unnecessary tests--and alleviating the need to wait months to see a specialist, according to STAT.

Free to both patients and doctors, Project ECHO was originally founded to improve care for patients in rural areas. But Kevita Patel, M.D., a primary care physician in the Johns Hopkins health system, says there’s also an intense need for this type of continuing medical education for doctors in urban areas, such as the District of Columbia.

Still, while she’s is a fan of the program, it’s proving a challenge for Patel to make time for the once-a-week training. That’s because her practice takes a financial hit when she’s not seeing patients.