New ECHO Institute Announced

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the GE Foundation, and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center are establishing the new ECHO Institute. RWJF along with the GE Foundation held a briefing June 14th in Washington D.C to listen to experts discuss how new care delivery models like Project ECHO can help meet the growing need for mental health and substance abuse treatment that needs to be integrated and coordinated with primary care.

The aim is to replicate Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) in order to serve as a model for expanding access to mental healthcare across the country. Today, Project ECHO by using a groundbreaking approach is increasing access to specialty care for hepatitis C treatment with the program starting in New Mexico. It has now expanded beyond New Mexico and Project ECHO now includes many other common, chronic, and complex diseases.

Since its launch in 2003, the ECHO model has continued to draw interest, first with partner sites, then with a nationwide pilot by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and more recently with a global chronic pain management program with DOD. Numerous other federal agencies, academic medical centers, and even other countries are in various stages of exploring or implementing Project ECHO.

The new ECHO Institute to be located at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque will focus on spreading the ECHO model across the U.S. and globally. Sanjeev Arora, M.D., the social innovator and liver disease specialist who created the ECHO model will lead the ECHO Institute.

Arora notes that the new mental health clinic funded by the GE Foundation demonstrates how the ECHO model has the potential to break down healthcare silos in different ways and supports more integrated and better coordinated patient care. He said, “By bringing mental health services into the primary care setting, we will ensure comprehensive and more effective treatment for patients with complex conditions.”

The ECHO Institute will connect ECHO programs nationally, globally, and make it possible to mine data for disease patterns and establish best practices. The ECHO Institute will develop the infrastructure and tools to help disseminate the ECHO model.

The GE Foundation’s funding for Project ECHO will not only help prototype and evaluate a new model of care, but the funding will also be used to train and mentor a team of primary care clinicians. The clinicians will then provide mental health treatment at community health centers in rural and underserved areas of New Mexico. If the model proves to be successful, it will be replicated at other Project ECHO sites.

“Through our work to expand access to primary care, we fully understand the growing need to provide mental health treatment in community health centers,” said Bob Corcoran, President and Chairman of the GE Foundation. He continued to say, “Project ECHO will bring mental healthcare to patients in their home communities with local clinicians. We think this will not only improve access to mental healthcare, but ultimately improve overall well-being and quality of life for these patients and their families.”

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