It was like a cross between House and a video version of Car Talk for doctors with patients infected with Hepatitis C. Instead of breaking into people’s apartments to find some hidden environmental cause of a difficult to diagnose illness, a panel of experts at the University of New Mexico responded to questions from medical providers around the country, many in rural areas where it is hard to access doctors with Hepatitis C expertise.
I connected our video conferencing system over a secure internet connection to a conference room in New Mexico. As the discussion started, I was afraid it would be very technical and boring. I must admit, that I don’t know my carburetor from my fuel injector, but I enjoy Car Talk. Likewise, I don’t know my Albumin from my Bilirubin, but I found the Project ECHO® discussion fascinating. A rural medical provider would start off with something like, I’ve got a 55 patient with a viral load of 4.5 million, and the team would drill down to come up with recommendations for treatment.
The team included a couple experts in Hepatitis C, together with psychiatrists and pharmacists that considered drug interactions and emotional responses to treatment. I found myself becoming engrossed in the discussion until they got to the point of a patient who was in such bad shape that the best course of action was to get him in line for a liver transplant. No, this isn’t just some new medical drama. They were talking about real people’s lives.
Yesterday, a friend of mine celebrated his birthday. Like many others, he had contracted Hepatitis C in during his treatment for hemophilia. Even with his good access to medical care, he ended up losing his liver. He was fortunate to receive a liver transplant and is much healthier now. If he were part of an underprivileged and underserved population, there is a very good chance that he would not have been celebrating his birthday yesterday. Project ECHO is helping bring the kind of care he recived to people that wouldn’t have had access just a few years ago.
Now, CHC is participating in Project ECHO. We are learning from the existing network and looking at ways replicate its success here in Connecticut. To me, that is much more interesting than a cross between House and a video version of Car Talk for doctors with patients infected with Hepatitis C.