Idaho’s need for improved healthcare is urgent. According to the United Health Foundation, the state ranks 50th for practicing physicians per capita, and the state is a designated mental health workforce shortage area according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
“The reality of limited access to specialists means primary care providers must treat patients with complicated conditions. Yet, isolation in rural communities can make it difficult for providers to get professional development and support to provide care that follows the most up-to-date standards,” said Lachelle Smith, director of ECHO Idaho. “That’s the gap ECHO Idaho tries to fill.”
“ECHO Idaho provides new perspective on difficult cases, reinforces some of my conclusions and allows me to proceed with more confidence,” said Dr. Andy Bradbury, chief medical officer for the Rexburg Free Clinic. “I make time for it because it helps me stay in line with evidence-based medicine rather than risk drifting due to my solo practice in a rural area.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the nation, ECHO Idaho had the infrastructure to host virtual meetings and was able to design a COVID-19 program within two weeks.
“We could plan a high-impact COVID-19 program quickly because of support from the CARES funding in collaborations with the Northwest Regional Telehealth Regional Center and partners like the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare,” Smith said. “We were intrinsically motivated to deliver facts about the disease to Idaho’s practitioners and administrators so they could make informed decisions on treatment options, infection control, immunizations, variants and more.”
ECHO Idaho’s COVID-19 sessions lasted 15 months, and connected 1,153 rural and urban healthcare workers, lawmakers and administrators in 40 of Idaho’s 44 counties. Of those, 875 people were first-time ECHO Idaho participants.
Jeff Seegmiller, director of the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho)
Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho, endorsed the program. “We are discovering that there is a community of knowledge in Idaho, and when clinicians participate in this program, their clinical practice improves. That is the beauty of ECHO.”