Stethoscope and gavel

Telemedicine Legislation Heartily Embraced by Senate

A telemedicine initiative from New Mexico may soon become a nationwide program. Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously approved the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, which champions the system developed five years ago at the University of New Mexico (UNM) to increase access to specialists in rural, underserved regions. The telemedicine legislation calls on the Health and Human Services Department to investigate the applications of the New Mexico project on a national scale.

The UNM program, known as Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), uses telemedicine in a hub-and-spoke model, connecting specialists at the UNM Health Sciences Center to patients in multiple rural clinics. The program also provides training and medical education to providers at remote locations.

Originally, the project was designed to treat patients with Hepatitis C. Soon after its inception, it was reviewed favorably in a study conducted by the Health and Human Services Department’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Over time, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other health systems adopted the same model.

The bill tasks the Health and Human Services Department with examining the potential applications of Project ECHO on issues such as:

* Mental disorders, chronic conditions, prenatal and maternal health, pediatric care, and pain management
* Healthcare workforce issues, particularly shortages of specialists
* Public health programs regarding disease prevention and infectious disease
* Healthcare delivery in underserved areas and for medically underserved populations

The legislation, S. 2873, was sponsored by Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). A companion bill, H.R. 5395, is currently awaiting vote in the House of Representatives.

To read more about the ECHO Act, click here.

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