Washington, D.C. — Today, Congressman Michael Burgess M.D. (R-TX) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act to increase patient access to best-practice specialty care through an innovative telehealth model.
This legislation would require the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the Health Resources and Services Administration, to examine the benefits of integrating the Project ECHO model into local health systems across the country.
Project ECHO, first started at the University of New Mexico in 2003, is a continuing medical education model that uses technology, such as interactive videoconferencing, to connect specialist physicians with primary care providers in rural or hard-to-reach regions. This guided practice model has proven overwhelmingly successful in growing workforce capacity to provide best-practice specialty care and reduce health disparities.
“As a former practicing physician, I believe that patients should not have to compromise access to quality specialty and primary care based on their location in the country. The most efficient and effective way to ensure widespread access to care is by harnessing models that have proven successful during implementation on a smaller scale, like that of Project ECHO,” said Burgess. “I look forward to working with Representative Matsui to strengthen the collaboration between specialty care doctors and primary care doctors to help them better serve their communities.”
“Through the ECHO Model, both patients and providers benefit from a more efficient health IT ecosystem,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “The model breaks down barriers in access to specialty care by increasing provider education and bolstering the workforce in underserved areas. In my district, we are seeing the promise of health IT with projects like the UC Davis ECHO Pain Management program, which uses video mentoring to support community primary care clinicians. The ECHO Act would maximize the opportunities of technology in a way that truly transforms our healthcare landscape. I look forward to continued collaboration with Congressman Burgess on advancing this important legislation.”
The bill has support from numerous groups including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).
“This legislation is noteworthy because it builds bridges in areas needing them. First, Project ECHO is bridging geographic divides to connect physicians and experts with patients in underserved, rural areas. Using new technologies, Project ECHO has potential to bolster access to specialists, reduce incidence of chronic disease, and rein in costs through reduced travel and fewer ER visits. This legislation would provide policymakers with critical information to expand such models to improve clinical practice. Second, it is an example of building bridges in Congress. This type of bipartisan, practical legislation is Congress at its best,” said Dr. Barbara McAneny, immediate past chair of the American Medical Association. “Finally, as Project ECHO is now working, it emphasizes collaboration between the local university and the local medical community, replacing competition for patients with an approach that focuses on convenience and access.”
“The Project ECHO model, which connects primary care providers to specialists, allows health center providers to develop the expertise to manage and meet the complex needs of patients within their own health center. This is especially important for health centers in rural areas, which often have less access to specialty providers and higher incidence of chronic diseases. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Burgess and Representative Matsui, the Expanding Connectivity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, which studies the use of collaborative learning models, like Project ECHO, will provide needed information to further expand the integration of this innovative model and, in doing so, enhance patient access to quality care,” said Dan Hawkins, Senior VP, Public Policy and Research, National Association of Community Health Centers.