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Project ECHO: Using Technology To Connect Clinicians And Health Insurance Providers

posted by Chris Regal, AHIP Senior Health Research Associate

on July 18, 2018

We all know about the many benefits of virtual visits. Patients can connect with providers–primary care doctors, specialists, behavioral health experts–no matter where they are located, reducing travel time to and from a doctor’s visit and time away from work or school.

Technology is also connecting providers, and this tech-enabled provider-to-provider interaction improves patient care. Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) is a hub-and-spoke model that enables specialists at academic medical centers (the hub) to collaborate with primary care clinicians in local communities (the spokes). Together, they care for patients locally using a team approach that combines specialized clinical expertise and primary care providers who best know the patient. Originally developed to connect specialists at the University of New Mexico hospital with rural providers, health insurance providers are investing in expanding the scope of the ECHO concept.

Below are some ways health insurance providers use the unique ECHO model to improve patient care.

  • Molina Healthcare was a primary partner in the development of Project ECHO. The original Project ECHO was created through the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Molina became the first managed care organization to work on the innovative project in 2011.  This ECHO project addresses conditions including asthma, mental illness, chronic pain, diabetes and cardiovascular risk reduction, hepatitis C, high-risk pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, pediatric obesity, rheumatology, and substance abuse.
  • Anthem funds and supports an ECHO project in West Virginia, in collaboration with the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, West Virginia University School of Medicine, West Virginia Primary Care Association, and Cabin Creek Health Systems. The plan helps connect primary care providers with experts to provide coordinated, patient-focused care for people with substance use disorders in one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, part of HCSC, awarded a $50,000 grant to Billings Clinic for an ECHO project that provides evidence-based treatments for addictions and behavioral health issues. The grant is part of the plan’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families initiative, which helps support sustainable, measurable programs related to nutrition, physical activity, disease prevention and management, supporting safe environments, and suicide prevention.
  • Superior Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene Corporation, offers an ECHO project in California as a collaborative model for serving underserved American Indian populations. The project aims to link primary care clinicians to resources and supports to help improve care quality and accessibility and to increase access to medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders.

Health insurance providers enhance consumer access to health services via ECHO services and technology-enabled, team-based approaches that eliminate the geographic limitations of traditional care. Through this type of ongoing innovation, we can help patients better manage chronic health conditions and access the highest quality care, anytime, anywhere, at an affordable cost.