Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) was launched in 2003 in New Mexico as a method of meeting local healthcare needs, originally as a means of enabling New Mexicans with hepatitis C to get treatment in their local area.
The ECHO model uses videoconferencing to enable specialists to share their knowledge and expertise with other healthcare professionals, who learn how to provide the required care in their communities.
Since its launch, the model has been expanded around the world and now covers more illnesses and specialties.
Northern Ireland Hospice is the first European Project ECHO ‘superhub’, offering training in the ECHO model for organisations across the continent.
Its first training session was attended by Highland Hospice’s consultant in palliative medicine, Dr Jeremy Keen, as well as Claire Watson, a staff nurse, and Sharan Brown, quality improvement officer.
The course was facilitated by Northern Ireland Hospice’s medical director, Professor Max Watson, with additional guidance from Tracy Smith from the ECHO ‘replication team’ in New Mexico.
Dr Keen praised the training session, saying that it had been “hugely valuable” for the Highland Hospice team.
“Ultimately, we hope to be able to take the learning we have gained during our time in Belfast back to our own hospice in Scotland, and implement a similar model there,” he said. “The majority of staff that we work with care for patients across a vast geographical area, often living in isolated, rural communities.
“The opportunity to be able to connect with other healthcare workers is fantastic because it provides the reassurance, support and confidence they need when caring for complex patients in remote areas.”
He added: “This is particularly important for those who are providing palliative care, as this can be a very emotive and challenging role in itself. Project ECHO provides a way for these healthcare workers to share their experiences with one another, and ultimately exchange knowledge that will improve the care delivered to the life-limited patient.”
Northern Ireland Hospice hopes that this training session will be the first of many. Prof Max Watson, who led a plenary session on Project ECHO at Hospice UK’s annual conference in November, said that using the ECHO model had helped to overcome many of the barriers to providing care for patients in remote areas.
“Our experience of using ECHO, both with our own hospice community teams and in collaboration with the health and social care board and public health agency, has proven to us how tele-mentoring can really help local clinicians both in terms of delivering more specialist care but also in overcoming isolation and providing peer support and focussed training opportunities,” he explained.
“By working together across our five current ECHO networks, specialists and generalists have been creating communities of practice to provide improved care for patients. This is particularly important where patients are living in remote rural areas, or are facing illnesses for which there are long waiting times to be seen centrally.
“ECHO is all about moving knowledge rather than forcing patients to move, and it has been very encouraging to see the way that our pilot ECHO projects have been replicating the results seen across the USA.”
More information about Project ECHO is available on the Northern Ireland Hospice website.