Success Stories

University of Idaho ECHO Program

The Power of Project ECHO in Idaho .  Funded by Health Resources Service Administration (HRSA) COVID CARES and the Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center (NRTRC)

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a program replicated worldwide to address regional healthcare concerns. Like Project ECHO programs everywhere, the ECHO Idaho model uses spoke-and-hub video conference dissemination to connect rural FQHC physicians, nurses, counselors, pharmacists and other professionals with specialists in face-to-face, real-time collaborative sessions. 

The State of Healthcare in Idaho

Idaho’s need for improved healthcare is urgent. According to the United Health Foundation, the state ranks 50th for practicing physicians per capita, and the entire state is a designated mental health workforce shortage area according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. 

“The reality of limited access to specialists means primary care providers must treat patients with complicated conditions, yet, isolation in rural communities can make it difficult for providers to get professional development and support to provide care that follows the most up-to-date standards,” said Lachelle Smith, director of ECHO Idaho. “That’s the gap ECHO Idaho tries to fill.”

Rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths have steadily risen over the last 10 years and in many parts of the state are nearly double the national average, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Compounding this landscape, many of Idaho’s healthcare professionals are nearing retirement and recruitment of young professionals to work in rural communities can be challenging.

Andy Bradbury, M.D., a physician and the chief medical officer for the Rexburg Free Clinic, has attended ECHO Idaho sessions since its inception in 2018. 
“ECHO Idaho provides new perspective on difficult cases, reinforces some of my conclusions and allows me to proceed with more confidence,” Bradbury said. “I make time for it because it helps me stay in-line with evidence-based medicine rather than risk drifting due to my solo practice in a rural area.”

ECHO Heard Throughout State During Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the nation, ECHO Idaho was already a trusted source of state-specific healthcare information. With infrastructure to host virtual meetings, an experienced staff and an engaged network already in place, ECHO Idaho was able to design a COVID-19 program within two weeks. 

“We could plan a high-impact COVID-19 program quickly because of support from the CARES funding in collaborations with the Northwest Regional Telehealth Regional Center (NRTRC) and partners like the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare,” Smith said. “We were intrinsically motivated to deliver facts about the disease to Idaho’s practitioners and administrators so they could make informed decisions on treatment options, infection control, immunizations, variants and more.”

ECHO Idaho’s initial COVID-19 session exceeded attendance records; 730 healthcare providers, educators and state leaders joined virtually or called in ― including Idaho Gov. Brad Little. The series concluded on June 29, 2021 and through those 15 months ECHO Idaho’s COVID-19 series connected 1,153 rural and urban healthcare workers, lawmakers and administrators in 40 of Idaho’s 44 counties. Of those, 875 people were first-time ECHO Idaho participants. ECHO Idaho is looking ahead to introduce series that address healthcare challenges in Idaho such as pediatric autism, geriatric primary care and diabetes.

‘A Community of Knowledge’

ECHO Idaho is a simple yet innovative strategy to overcome healthcare challenges in Idaho and helps providers collaborate and support each other. Patients benefit from better care in their home community, and decreased costs can be realized through less travel time to see specialists, reductions in hospitalizations and unnecessary tests/labs.

“ECHO Idaho helps support the existing workforce to provide top-notch patient care now, helps leverage different disciplines to work together and providers develop camaraderie,” Smith said. 
Jeff Seegmiller, EdD, director of the Idaho WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho, echoes Smith’s sentiment.

“I love it when a rural clinician brings a challenging case for review and another ECHO participant on the virtual meeting shares what worked for them in their rural town,” Seegmiller said. “We are discovering that there is a community of knowledge in Idaho, and when clinicians participate in this program, their clinical practice improves. That is the beauty of ECHO.”

Lindsay Lodis, Marketing and Communications Manager, ECHO Idaho
Published July 2021