Since 2003, a University of New Mexico (UNM) program has brought primary care clinicians from across the state together for weekly video teleconferences to improve treatment outcomes for hepatitis C patients.
"The goal of this model was to treat hepatitis C patients everywhere in New Mexico as well as they were treated at the university," said Dr. Sanjeev Arora, a UNM hepatologist and founder of Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). The project also serves as a training program and is A "force multiplier" that allows a small group of specialists to recruit local clinicians in treating hard-to-cure illnesses, he said.
Each Wednesday, about a dozen clinicians take part. Participants on the hepatitis C teleconferences, which are led by Arora, include physicians and nurse practitioners from clinics in Carlsbad, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Connecticut.
Participant Debra Newman, a physician assistant at El Centro Family Health in Española, receives hepatitis C patient referrals from physicians throughout northern New Mexico. On a recent teleconference, she described working with a patient with end-stage liver disease experiencing severe side effects in his 74th week of treatment. "We need to get this patient through treatment and cure the virus," said Arora, since the man would otherwise die or need a transplant.
Project ECHO now has expanded to sponsor clinics addressing 20 illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, with clinicians at 255 sites statewide participating. Its $4 million annual cost is supported by grants from funders including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more information, visit: http://echo.unm.edu/.