MU helping to provide specialty healthcare to rural Missouri

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COLUMBIA - MU Health has started a new program titled Show-Me ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcome) that allows primary care providers in rural areas to video conference with a team of specialists at MU to help determine plans of action for their patients. 

The goal of the program is to allow people who live in rural Missouri to stay within their communities and still receive top-notch medical care. This means they are able to save gas money and time-off work by not having to make the long drive into the city.  

"What it does is it lets us help rural primary care providers, doctors and nurse practitioners, take better care of their patients," said Dr. Karen Edison. She is the chairwomen of the Department of Dermatology at MU and the leader of the Dermatology ECHO program. 

According to Edison the idea comes from a doctor in New Mexico who noticed many people living in rural areas were dying from Hepatitis C, despite the fact there were treatments for the disease. Edison said he realized the death rate from the disease in these rural areas were substantially higher than the rates in areas within a short distance to major hospitals with specialists. And even if the people suffering from the disease were able to make a trip into the city, the wait to see this doctor was months. 

Edison said this is when the doctor got the idea to start an ECHO program where he could video conference with rural healthcare providers and help teach them proper ways to treat the disease. As a result, the state of New Mexico saw a large drop in the death rate and the doctor's clinic no longer had very long waits. Shortly after, the idea started to spread. 

In July, MU received $1.5 million in state funding to pay for the program. As of now, MU has 6 different specialties the ECHO program covers including autism, dermatology, endocrinology, hepatitis C, impact asthma and chronic pain management. Edison said the goal is to add two more next year which will cover high-risk pregnancies and mental/behavioral health. 

"This is an opportunity to de-monopolize our knowledge if you will," Edison said. "A chance to get the universities knowledge and expertise out there to really help our citizens. We think it really is an opportunity to improve the quality of care throughout Missouri." 

Show-Me ECHO is a part of The University of Missouri's Missouri Telehealth Network.

Some of the closest towns to Columbia that have participated in the program are Boonville and Sedalia.

Jesse Walters lives in Boonville and said he believes the program is a good idea. 

"With the facilities that MU has and the limitations these small towns have, I think it would be great to have those other opinions from specialty doctors just using their experience as well," Walters said. 

When asked if he was concerned that the quality of care would not be the same as an in person visit, he said he actually prefers to just see his personal doctor instead of having to go see a doctor he has never met. 

He also said anytime he has to drive into to Columbia, it takes up a big part of his day. 

KOMU 8 also spoke with a doctor in Rolla who said she has used the Autism ECHO. She said speaking with people on the panel helped her to realize that the nausea one of her child patients was suffering from is often times associated with autism and its medications. 

Edison said the program has already been successful is reducing hospitalizations and ER visits.