On December 6, 2016, the House passed the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act (S. 2873) (the ECHO Act), which was unanimously passed by the Senate on November 29, 2016. The ECHO Act seeks to expand the use of health care technology and programming to connect underserved communities and populations with critical health care services.
The ECHO Act builds upon the University of New Mexico’s world-renowned Project ECHO by encouraging the broader development and use of technology-enabled collaborative learning and care delivery models by connecting 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 ECHO Act requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models, and the impact of those models on (1) certain health conditions (i.e., mental health and substance use disorders, chronic diseases, prenatal and maternal health, pediatric care, pain management, and palliative care), (2) health care workforce issues (e.g., specialty care shortages) and (3) public health programs.
Within two years of the enactment of the ECHO Act, the Secretary of HHS must submit a publically available report to Congress that:
- Analyzes the impact of technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models, including, but not limited to, the impact on health care provider retention, quality of care, access to care and barriers faced by healthcare providers;
- Lists the technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models funded by HHS over the past five years;
- 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 technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building 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.
The recommendations made in HHS’s report may be used to integrate the Project ECHO model into health systems across the country.