GE Foundation Partners to Improve Health Disparities
Whether in rural New Mexico or downtown Chicago, patients across the country have limited access to care for common, complex conditions. This problem is particularly serious in rural and underserved areas, where it is extremely difficult to recruit and retain both primary and specialty care providers. However, a new model for health care delivery and education is taking root in the United States, and it has the potential to radically reduce health disparities and access to care worldwide. Since 2003, Project ECHO has brought high-quality specialty care to thousands of people living in poor, rural, and underserved communities.
Leveraging low-cost multipoint videoconferencing technology to spread best practices through case-based learning and mentoring, Project ECHO links primary care providers in remote communities with specialist expert teams to manage and treat complex chronic conditions—from hepatitis C (HCV) to rheumatoid arthritis, to addictions. In this way, ECHO exponentially expands the capacities of primary care providers to treat some of the most serious health problems in their communities. This collaborative learning model grew out of Dr. Sanjeev Arora’s mission to demonopolize medical knowledge, to get the right care in the right place at the right time to save lives.
In 2003, Dr. Arora was one of two liver specialists treating HCV in the entire state of New Mexico. He became increasingly frustrated as his patients were suffering, and sometimes dying, from a treatable and curable condition, as they waited up to eight months to see a specialist. As a response to this striking inequity in access to HCV treatment, Dr. Arora created a free, virtual clinic and mentored community providers across New Mexico in how to treat the condition.
The quality of care by community providers participating in Project ECHO, as demonstrated in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was excellent, and as good as the care provided by Dr. Arora and his team at the University of New Mexico. That same study also showed that the ECHO model can reduce racial and ethnic disparities in treatment outcomes by expanding access to care. The GE Foundation shares both Project ECHO’s commitment to free exchange of medical knowledge as a way to serve the underserved and its goal of touching 1 billion lives by 2025. We at the GE Foundation began working with Project ECHO in 2012 to prototype a new model of integrated primary and behavioral health care services at community health centers in New Mexico.
Our leadership quickly realized the potential of Project ECHO to advance its own effort to improve access to health care for underserved populations in the United States. Together, we embarked on a multiyear initiative to expand the model across the country, with a focus on growing the number of community health centers participating in ECHO. Community providers are the key to improving health care access, and we are convinced that Project ECHO is the key to bringing new knowledge to community providers when and where they need it. We envision a future in which Project ECHO is embedded into the operating system of community health centers across the country.
The GE Foundation supports the ECHO Institute™ at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, a relationship that helps fund Project ECHO’s replication efforts and infrastructure, including monthly orientation visits and threeday immersion trainings, as well as ongoing implementation assistance and resources, information technology platforms and software development, communications, and administration and management of the ECHO Institute™.
Our relationship with Project ECHO is based on mutual sharing of expertise, leadership training, strategic planning, and much more. In order to build capacity, the GE Foundation offers leadership training opportunities to key Project ECHO participants and stakeholders at Project ECHO convenings. At a recent Project ECHO conference, GE trainers led sessions on strengthening such key skills as change acceleration and building high-performing teams.
Additionally, the GE Foundation engages its own team members in Project ECHO’s success and expansion through capacity-building initiatives, offering skills-based support in areas such as strategic planning and partnerships, amplification, outreach, sustainability, and more.
And Project ECHO has the potential to extend far beyond health. It holds promise for democratizing any kind of specialty knowledge across settings as far-reaching as education, corrections, medical examination, defense, and more.
At the GE Foundation, we want to build a world that works better—and our partnership with Project ECHO holds true to that commitment.
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Healthy Returns: The Value of Investing in Community Health.]