Project ECHO Lowers Barriers to Care While targeting Opioid Epidemic

Now wrapping up its first year here in Virginia, Project ECHO is an innovate technology that is helping the medical community battle the opioid epidemic by sharing critical information and resources throughout the state.

Dr. Carole Pratt, Health Policy Advisor for the Virginia Dept. of Health, explains that the ECHO virtual education model is ideal for sharing information with the state’s rural and remote communities.

“Many practices are experiencing a number of patients struggling with addiction. Rural communities, in particular, don’t have access to many resources. There aren’t many specialty clinicians in these areas to treat that patient or patients in the practice and not have to send them out for treatment elsewhere,” says Dr. Pratt.

Project ECHO operates in Virginia via three hubs, or knowledge centers: the Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Knowledge is disseminated from these hubs to cover the entire state of Virginia and the different ways that addiction presents itself in different areas.

Sharing expert knowledge via laptop, computer or even phone to physicians across the state is a critical part of improving access to care. Another barrier is also lowered: medical professionals participating in the ECHO sessions receive Continuing Medical Education credits, which are now required by the state for anyone treating individuals with addiction. There is no charge. It’s an easy way for a provider to obtain the knowledge they need to take care of their patients without having to refer them out to specialty services that are not readily available in many communities.

Project ECHO can be expanded to address other health conditions. Dr. Pratt says the possibilities for using it here in Virginia are “limitless.”

“If you’re not familiar with Project ECHO, you’re missing out! Become familiar with the opportunity. Think about different ways it can help improve your practice. Take advantage of the opportunity to treat patients that need to be treated where they live, and enhance your own doctor relationship with your patients,” she concludes.