Project ECHO began in 2003 when a local doctor noticed his patient waitlist was eight months long. He started the program to train rural doctors so patients in those places wouldn’t have to travel to places like Albuquerque to get specialty care. Now, the program is exploding due to COVID-19.
Dr. Sanjeev Arora at the University of New Mexico is very familiar with video chatting. “We have been using Zoom now for more than five years,” Dr. Arora said.
The Project ECHO founder has been training other doctors remotely for years on anything from HIV to diabetes. Then, along came COVID. “We essentially had the railroad tracks, but we started driving COVID-19 trains on them,” Dr. Arora said.
Last year, Dr. Arora said they had fewer than 250,000 people tuning into their video chats worldwide. In the last nine months, that number jumped to 750,000 with 14,000 participating from all 33 counties in New Mexico. “Every doctor, nurse, and community health worker in the world was hungry,” Dr. Arora said. “They had no idea what to do.”
They have these video conferences several times a week with doctors sharing actual cases and problems they are encountering. The biggest questions at first were how doctors should protect themselves, their staff, and patients from COVID. Then, questions transitioned into how doctors can provide virtual care for non-COVID patients and recommendations for ventilator settings and handling new treatments like Remdesivir.
“By mid-August, there had been 23,500 new publications about COVID, and how was a rural doctor or nurse to keep up with it,” Dr. Arora asked. “We took on that role to get the latest information to them.”
He said it is an all-teach-all approach where everyone learns from each other. “Sometimes, academic center doctors like me don’t really understand all the barriers that rural clinicians face and when they bring those barriers, other rural clinicians from other parts of New Mexico help them solve it,” Dr. Arora said.
He said healthcare can be provided anywhere by moving knowledge instead of patients. “We want to help everyone,” Dr. Arora said. “We want to help every single healthcare provider in New Mexico.”
Project ECHO has people joining from 150 countries, using the platform worldwide to train on 100 different diseases. ECHO just received a $237 million contract from the federal government to launch a network for nursing homes nationwide to improve their COVID care.
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