On December 6, the House of Representatives passed the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act (the ECHO Act), which was unanimously passed by the Senate at the end of November. The ECHO Act expands upon the University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO by promoting the use of telehealth and video conferencing to connect health care professionals with rural and underserved communities. Their hub-and-spoke model depicts the idea of designating main “hub” hospitals with specialists who will then conduct virtual trainings for primary care physicians at “spoke” sites that don’t normally have that type of access.
The bill encourages the development of technology-enabled collaborative learning. Due to the shortage of health care specialists in rural areas, this Act addresses the need for better quality care, without the difficulty of traveling or obtaining a referral. The ECHO Act would also relieve the stress put on the limited number of rural providers who are struggling to provide services.
According to the provisions of the bill, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be required to study and report on the impact of technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models and their ability to improve patient care and provider education. The HHS will make their report to Congress, describing best practices in adopting these models, any obstacles in the adoption of them, along with ways to overcome those obstacles. The report will also include recommendations on how to integrate the Project ECHO model into current federal funding streams and grant programs.