: The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC) has developed an innovative and widely applicable model to provide treatment for patients with chronic, common and complex diseases who do not have direct access to specialty healthcare providers. This knowledge-on-demand model is called Project ECHO - Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes. Conceived as a means to treat HCV-infected patients in New Mexico's rural communities and prison system, Project ECHO can assist in diagnosing and successfully treat many other chronic illnesses and conditions. Project ECHO connects urban medical center disease experts with rural general practitioners and community health representatives over a telehealth network. This enables them to effectively treat patients on site who would otherwise have to travel to urban healthcare facilities for specialty treatment. Project ECHO has enormous potential as an affordable healthcare intervention in rural communities where certain chronic diseases have reached epidemic levels and healthcare resources and personnel are scarce. The purpose of Project ECHO is to educate, train, and support rural general practitioners or other available healthcare representatives on the best practice treatment protocols for complex diseases they encounter in their communities. This model focuses on the principles of case-based learning and disease management using the telemedicine infrastructure and internet-based technologies to co-manage patients in community-based practices. The ultimate goal of Project ECHO is to provide the same level of healthcare to rural patients with chronic diseases as can be obtained in an urban setting. A secondary goal is to provide rural healthcare practitioners with a level of interaction and support commensurate with their urban counterparts to enhance their technical competence and decrease their feelings of professional isolation. Project ECHO is being field-tested in weekly, regularly scheduled telemedicine clinics hosted by UNM HSC specialists in the areas of hepatitis C. Through use of the UNM HSC Telehealth pathways and internet-based access, community healthcare providers around New Mexico are afforded the opportunity to present cases which are discussed among the network participants to jointly reach treatment decisions.
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