New Mexico Telehealth Program Shows Promise for Chronic Illness Care

A New Mexico-based program that uses telehealth technology and case-based learning helped increase the number of consultations provided for hepatitis C and other chronic diseases, according to a new Health Affairs study, CMIO reports (CMIO, 5/20).

About the Project

The initiative -- called Project ECHO, or Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes -- enables specialists from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center to partner with primary care providers in rural and underserved areas of the state.

The primary care providers undergo an orientation and training at UNM's School of Medicine in Albuquerque, where they learn about the project's communication technology and weekly telehealth clinics (Fleming, "Health Affairs Blog," Health Affairs, 5/19).

For the telehealth clinics, UNM specialists and disease-specific teams of primary care providers meet weekly via videoconference to review specific cases. The specialists and health care providers also work together to coordinate care for patients with chronic illnesses.

Project ECHO also provides online disease management tools to aid in patient consultations and a centralized database to monitor patient outcomes.

Study Findings

According to the study, fewer than 1,600 New Mexico residents had received treatment for hepatitis C and chronic liver disease before Project ECHO began its pilot program in 2003.

However, by March 2011, 298 Project ECHO teams had collaborated on more than 10,000 consultations for hepatitis C and other chronic conditions, the study found.

Expansion of Project

Organizers of the initiative have expanded Project ECHO to address other chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and pediatric obesity. In addition, the Project ECHO model is being replicated at the University of Chicago and the University of Washington in Seattle (CMIO, 5/20).

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