Rural health thanks to telehealth

Imagine living in a rural area and not having a local gastroenterologist, or psychologist, or infectious or chronic disease specialist? In remote and sparsely populated areas, such as New Mexico in the US, people often have to travel three to four hours for specialised local care.

But one movement is demonopolising knowledge and amplifying the capacity to provide best practice care for underserved people all over the world.

Originating at the University of New Mexico, and launched in 2003, Project ECHO delivers state-of-the-art care and physicians via the Internet to those who need it most: rural, low-income, underserved and often uninsured patients.

Initially designed for patients with hepatitis C, the innovative model of health care education and delivery is improving the treatment of chronic and complex diseases including cancer, chronic pain, substance use, women’s health, diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

ECHO stands for ‘Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes’ and was created by Sanjeev Arora, M.D., a liver disease doctor in Albuquerque who was frustrated that thousands of New Mexicans with hepatitis C could not get the necessary treatment. So he decided to put local clinicians together with specialist teams at academic medical centres in weekly virtual ‘teleECHO’ clinics.

Today, Project ECHO operates more than 120 hubs for more than 60 diseases and conditions in 23 countries – from Ecuador to Egypt. Treatment for hepatitis C is now available at centres of excellence across New Mexico, and more than 3,000 doctors, nurses and community health workers provide treatment to more than 6,000 patients enrolled in Project ECHO’s comprehensive disease management programs.

Through increasing the adoption of telemedicine, mentoring an educated pool of connected community-care providers, healthcare providers across the country can overcome physical isolation.

This story originally appeared on Atlas of the Future.

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