Project ECHO Is Revolutionizing Rural Healthcare in the US

May 31, 2016 - 3 minutes read
A Project ECHO session underway in Houston, TX.

A Project ECHO session underway in Houston, TX. 

Approximately a quarter of the US population lives in rural areas, yet 90% of doctors practice in urban areas. For rural patients, the result can be disastrous — especially for low-income patients who can’t afford to travel hundreds of miles to meet with specialists in urban areas. Chronic disease sufferers often have to settle for general practitioners who may not have sufficient experience to get them proper, timely treatment. Politicians and mobile app developers in Houston and nationwide want to know: why isn’t there an app for that? Why isn’t tech being used to help alleviate this growing problem?

Enter Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a little-known initiative to connect rural medical practices with specialist expertise in university and urban medical centers. The premise of Project ECHO, which has been in development since 2003, is remarkably simple: use teleconference technologies to connect rural practices with specialists across the US.

What started as a solution to one Albuquerque doctor’s frustration with by the lack of local Hepatitis C treatments has grown to include 39 hubs in 22 states, focussed on spreading treatment quality for almost 30 diseases to date. The program has been so successful that it even reaches outside US borders to five partnering countries.

What’s most exciting about Project ECHO’s growth from a MedTech app developer’s perspective is the signal that the medical industry is finally ready to integrate mobile tech. Convincing existing medical practices — especially rural ones — that technologies like mobile apps development and wearable trackers can add value to their businesses has been an uphill battle. Even obvious wins like using wearable fitness trackers for preventative care have seen slow adoption outside specialized providers. Overall, in spite of the evidence that preventative care is the best medicine, the US medical industry has taken a back seat in the tech revolution and operates more or less the same as it did ten years ago.

If initiatives like Project ECHO continue to demonstrate the value tech offers to healthcare, we may be on the verge of a game-changing MedTech revolution.

You can learn more about Project ECHO at their website.

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