Telehealth program allows doctors across state access to expert

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COLUMBIA - Health care providers across the state are now being trained to provide residents with more specialized treatments for chronic diseases.

Some of these disease include diabetes care, hepatitis C, childhood asthma, chronic pain management and autism.

The Missouri Telehealth Network received $1.5 million in state appropriations to develop and launch the Show-Me Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program.

An ECHO program works by having a panel of experts in various chronic diseases use video conferencing once a week to train and support primary care providers throughout the state.

Karen Edison, M.D., medical director of the Missouri Telehealth network said the program is a great educational tool for those doctors who don't have direct access to an expert of a certain chronic disease.

"By training primary care providers, we are not only increasing access but also the number of patients who will receive treatment," Dr. Edison said. "This allows patients in rural areas to receive care without needing to leave their own community."

Missouri is the first state to provide funding which will allow numerous ECHO programs to be offered statewide. The University of Missouri will be the central training hub for the program.

The Show Me ECHO project is a replication of the Project ECHO model developed at the University of New Mexico.

"In many cases, the patients will now be able to see one physician and get specialized treatment," Dr. Edison said. "It is beneficial for both the rural and underserved areas of the state and also urban areas, where there can be a long wait to get an appointment with a specialist."

Starting this month, the Missouri Telehealth Network is forming expert teams for six ECHO programs. All of the program topics were chosen based on criteria that highlighted them as common, but complex, chronic and costly diseases.