On November 29, 2016, the Senate unanimously passed the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act (the ECHO Act). This legislation seeks to expand the use of technology to connect underserved communities with critical health care services.
The ECHO Act is designed to encourage the development of “technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity models,” which are defined as “distance health education model[s] that connect specialists with multiple other health care professionals through simultaneous interactive videoconferencing for the purpose of facilitating case-based learning, disseminating best practices, and evaluating outcomes.” The idea to facilitate the development and use of these models arises from the University of New Mexico’s “Project ECHO.” Project ECHO, started in 2011, uses technology to connect health care specialists to patients in underserved communities (generally, in rural areas). Through this “hub-and-spoke model,” specialists at a hub hospital or academic medical center connect to providers and patients in rural areas through virtual “teleECHO clinics.”
The ECHO Act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “examine” the impact of technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models on:
- Addressing mental health and substance use disorders, chronic diseases, prenatal and maternal health, pediatric care, pain management, and palliative care;
- Health care work force issues (e.g., specialty care shortages);
- Public health programs; and
- Any other issues the Secretary deems appropriate.
Based on this examination, the Secretary must submit a report to Congress within two years that:
- Lists the technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models funded by HHS over the past five years;
- Analyzes the impact of technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models;
- Describes best practices used in adopting these models;
- Describes barriers to adoption of these models, and recommends ways to reduce those barriers and opportunities to increase use of these models; and
- Issues recommendations regarding the role of these models in “continuing medical education and lifelong learning, including the role of academic medical centers, provider organizations, and community providers in such education and lifelong learning.”
Now that it has passed the Senate, the ECHO Act has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration.