The mission of Project ECHO® is to develop the capacity to safely and effectively treat chronic, common, and complex diseases in rural and underserved areas, and to monitor outcomes of this treatment.
Project ECHO® is funded in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and has received support from the New Mexico Legislature, the University of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Department of Public Health.
In 2002, Sanjeev Arora, MD, a physician at UNM Hospital and one of the few hepatitis specialists became increasingly frustrated with his inability to provide care to the thousands of New Mexicans who suffer from hepatitis C.
"I could only treat 70-90 hepatitis C patients per year in my clinic and there were more than 30,000 people with the disease in the state," he says, adding that there was a six-month waiting list for patients to see him. And these were the lucky patients the ones who lived near Albuquerque or could afford the luxury of traveling to see a specialist on a monthly basis for the year-long treatment.
Treating hepatitis C is a complicated process; it takes many years to develop this special expertise and very few physicians in New Mexico have it. In rural and medically underserved areas, proximity to specialists, a limited number of specialty providers and inadequate medical insurance severely limit a patient’s ability to seek specialty care. This meant that thousands of rural patients across the state who did not have access to a specialist or the means to gain access would largely go untreated.
To Arora, this was unacceptable. “I asked myself if there was something I could do to make a difference,” he says. The answer he came up with was simple: A significant change in the way we treat common, chronic, complex diseases was needed.