November 29, 2016

Manchin Votes to Improve Healthcare in Rural Areas

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today voted to pass the Enhancing Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act. This bipartisan legislation aims to better integrate the Project ECHO model into health systems across the country. The ECHO model is an innovative continuing medical education model that uses interactive videoconferencing to link specialist teams (“hubs”) with primary care providers (“spokes”) in rural and underserved areas.

“Communities in rural and underserved areas of West Virginia face unique challenges when it comes to access to healthcare,” Senator Manchin said. “Through telecommunications, these West Virginians will have access to the ECHO model, a quality healthcare program that will improve the education of our healthcare providers and the quality of healthcare services. I commend the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute for launching Project ECHO in West Virginia, to help treat and prevent hepatitis C in our state.”

The West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI) launched Project ECHO in April 2016 to address hepatitis C cases that have been on the rise in West Virginia largely due to the increase in drug use. Using the hub and spoke network, ECHO established West Virginia University as the central hub and each week connects rural clinics throughout West Virginia with hepatitis C specialists as well as an addiction expert, a pharmacist, and a nurse.

"We discovered project ECHO last year when we were searching for care for our patients with Hepatitis C.  This is a complex disease that usually requires specialist care which is tough to find in a rural state.  ECHO is a proven cost effective method for supporting primary care providers in caring for complex medical conditions such as hepatitis.  Using bi-weekly video conference sessions, the specialists provide education and case consultation with a network of primary care practitioners. Early on the leadership at the WVU School of Medicine and the C.W. Benedum Foundation saw the value of the ECHO model for improving care of complex medical problems in West Virginia.  The WVU HepC ECHO has been running for 9 months and planning is underway for additional ECHO clinics to extend to care for other complex medical problems such as chronic pain and addiction treatment. We appreciate the wisdom of Senator Manchin and the U.S. Senate in passing the legislation to study the ECHO model as a strategy to address the acute problem of specialist level care in rural communities,” said Craig Robinson, Executive Director of Cabin Creek Health Systems.

The ECHO Act will bill:

  • Require the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), to prioritize analysis of the model, its impacts on provider capacity and workforce issues, and evidence of its effects on quality of patient care.
  • Request a GAO report regarding opportunities for increased adoption of such models, efficiencies and potential cost savings from such models, ways to improve health care through such models, and field recommendations to advance the use of such models.
  • Require the HHS Secretary to submit a report to Congress on the findings of the GAO report and the HHS report, including ways such models have been funded by HHS and how to integrate these models into current funding streams and innovative grant proposals.