RWJF Awards $5 Million to Expand Rural Healthcare Project

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has announced a three-year, $5 million grant to the University of New Mexico's Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) to expand and replicate its efforts to bring specialty health care to rural America.

The project uses a secure Internet-based audio-visual network to connect primary care providers with medical specialists at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center to improve access to care for patients in rural areas suffering from chronic disease. Unlike most telehealth initiatives, which primarily connect patients with doctors, however, ECHO trains doctors, nurses, physician's assistants, and other clinicians in rural and underserved areas to work together to manage patients, expanding the health system's capacity to deliver high-quality chronic care to those most in need.

With the grant, the project will work to establish a program at the University of Washington while expanding the ECHO model to treat other common chronic and complex diseases, including diabetes, substance abuse and mental health problems, asthma, rheumatism, chronic pain, and high-risk pregnancy.

"Through Project ECHO, we are treating very sick people who couldn't otherwise get care, and we are extending the capacity and reach of the healthcare system by engaging more colleagues in highly needed specialties," said Project ECHO director Sanjeev Arora. "We believe that this approach can help bring best-practice specialty care to millions more Americans."