Blog Global Health Center

E-Health and Global Health: A fireside chat with Project ECHO

Written by Pedro Gomez, vice chair, Global Health Student Advisory Committee; Global Health and Environment degree candidate (philosophy, neuroscience, psychology & anthropology), Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

Students, faculty, and staff gathered at the 2022 Global Health Week at Washington University in St. Louis, to attend “E-Health and Global Health: Fireside Chat with Project ECHO”, a panel discussion about using e-health to assist primary care providers in under-resourced areas. The event was organized by the Global Health Student Advisory Committee in conjunction with the Olin Business School and featured Elizabeth Clewett, PhD, MBA, chief of staff at Project ECHO, and Rishi Sud, MD, MBA, chief medical officer at Esse Health.

Project ECHO stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes and is a web-based guided training model that was founded in 2003 by Sanjeev Arora, MD, in response to the shortage of specialist care providers in rural New Mexico. The model was created to train primary care providers on how to care for patients with complex medical conditions, thus helping to minimize the healthcare inequality gap between rural and urban populations. The program consists of weekly virtual clinics where teams of specialist mentors share their knowledge with primary care practitioners in rural and underserved areas through case-based learning and guided practice.

Clewett commenced the panel event by introducing Project ECHO, and talking about its development over the past several years. Clewett further discussed the origin of the program in New Mexico in response to the high number of untreated Hepatitis C patients. Since the implementation of Project ECHO, Hepatitis C treatment in New Mexico and other communities has increased, and outcomes have improved. The use of the ECHO model, however, is not limited to the United States; the model has been used in more than 100 institutions in over 20 countries to treat more than 55 complex medical conditions. Clewett credited the emergence of technologies, like Zoom, and the recent shift to teleworking in many places as one of the main factors behind the recent rapid expansion in the use of the ECHO model around the world.

Sud talked about his experiences using Project ECHO to train primary care doctors to treat Hepatitis C so that they can become authorized to prescribe Harvoni, a recent groundbreaking yet expensive medical treatment for the disease. Sud discussed how he started Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Pharmacy Residency programs in his previous role at HealthLinc, utilizing ECHO modules to train residents. He detailed many of the issues that we currently face in healthcare today, ranging from the increased demand for primary care clinicians to the growing need for preventative healthcare, and talked about how Project ECHO has contributed to bridging this gap. Sud brought attention to the non-hierarchical and community based essence of Project ECHO and highlighted these as characteristics that allow it to expand preventative healthcare and positively impact outcomes in an exponential manner. The panel discussion was followed by a networking social event, in which attendees interacted with each other and met the speakers. Topics included mental health, health policy and COVID-19.