The Idaho office of Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is working to get critical information on the COVID-19 outbreak to the state’s medical professionals.
“From modeling and experience in other countries, it doesn’t take a lot for hospitals to be overwhelmed,” remarked epidemiologist Dr. Carolyn Bridges at the beginning of a Project ECHO COVID-19 video conference on March 24.
Bridges began the 90-minute training session with an overview of what the medical professions have discovered about the novel coronavirus and its spread.
“The COVID-19 training session went very well,” said Kayla Graves, one of the project coordinators for Project Echo in Idaho. “Over 730 people attended, which is a record for us. We were very surprised.”
The session was such a success that Project ECHO is now offering COVID-19 sessions twice a week, on Tuesdays, noon to 1 p.m., and Fridays, 1 to 2 p.m., until further notice. This schedule may change depending on demand. Each session gives participants ample opportunities to pose questions of the experts presenting the class material. Full details and session registration are available on the Idaho Project ECHO COVID-19 webpage.
Bridges, who is a member of the Governor’s coronavirus working group, was one of three medical professionals who presented up-to-date information on the COVID-19 situation in Idaho. The March 24 session covered topics such as the availability of testing, issues for screening patients, the latest epidemiological statistics and the supply of personal protection equipment.
The session also included a live call with Gov. Brad Little on the state’s response and plans for dealing with the disease. Future sessions will cover similar material and update the subject matter presented as the situation with COVID-19 in Idaho evolves.
Tom Reinhardt, CEO of Cascade Medical Center in Cascade, emphasized the strain COVID-19 puts on Idaho’s resources.
“Before, medical providers in Idaho were isolated due to the rural nature of the state, but COVID-19 has isolated us even more because of social distancing.”
Reinhardt has participated in ECHO Idaho programs on behavioral health and opioid use. He was pleased to learn of the COVID-19 session.
“I applaud ECHO Idaho for being creative and flexible in its response to COVID-19,” he said. “For the same reasons that ECHO has been helpful with behavioral health and opioid use education, it will be important and helpful for this pandemic.”
The COVID-19 training session was the latest in free remote medical training classes offered by the Idaho office of Project ECHO. ECHO has multiple branches throughout the country.
The free training also awards continuing education credits for Idaho physicians, registered nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers, counselors and other associated professionals.
Project ECHO uses video conferencing to connect community providers across Idaho with specialists in regular, real-time collaborative sessions. The sessions, designed around case-based learning and mentorship, help health care professionals gain the expertise required to meet the needs of residents.
“Connecting Idaho’s health workforce virtually is exactly what we do; we had everything in place to quickly design a COVID-19 presentation for Idaho’s health care providers, who are on the frontlines and working under significant duress,” ECHO Idaho’s Director Lachelle Smith said. “Given the rapidly changing landscape, we felt it was crucial to provide a timely and effective response.”
The idea behind ECHO is to provide training for Idaho’s health care professionals, especially those in remote or under-served communities. Besides the COVID-19 class, ECHO classes have covered medication for addiction treatment, opioids, perinatal substance abuse disorder and behavioral health.
“For professionals in places like Sandpoint or Victor, ECHO training classes save both money and the burden of travel time,” explained Lindsay Lodis, marketing and communications manager of the Idaho WWAMI Medical Education Program.
WWAMI is a collaboration of medical schools and universities in five states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. WWAMI offers both a medical school program and continuing education through Project ECHO.
Project ECHO started at the ECHO Institute at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 2003. It offers “telementoring” and remote learning programs for clinicians. ECHO now has branches in many states. It came to Idaho in 2018.
“ECHO needed a home in Idaho,” Lodis said. “Its medical education program was a good match with the objectives of WWAMI in Idaho.”
It currently operates out of the University of Idaho facilities in Boise with a staff of four. Funding is through federal and philanthropic grants, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare subawards and University of Idaho WWAMI.