The ECHO Idaho Project is changing our healthcare landscape, one Zoom meeting at a time

Idaho’s rural communities face the greatest disparity when it comes to access to quality health care.

With 35 of Idaho’s 44 counties considered medically underserved, the need for health professionals to treat the complex and evolving needs of their communities is greater than ever. Access to health care in rural areas is often difficult due to geographic location, an aging population, and a shrinking health care workforce. Idaho’s nearly two-decade physician shortage has affected the care providers can provide. That leaves Idaho communities with just one doctor for every 600 residents.

As is true in many states, Idaho requires continuing medical education for physicians who practice in the Gem State. Continuing medical education is aimed at educating health care practitioners to better understand current standards of care. However, the types of continuing medical education credits available are often limited and expensive.

To address these issues, Project ECHO Idaho was established in 2018 to offer continuing medical education at no cost to healthcare professionals in Idaho’s remote or underserved communities. Leveraging the growing trend of telemedicine, the program provides an affordable way for healthcare providers and clinicians to access relevant information and best practices while earning free continuing medical education credits in weekly one-hour sessions.

In just four years, ECHO Idaho has helped over 3,100 medical professionals from 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties earn over 10,000 free credit hours for continuing medical education. Bringing together multidisciplinary specialists in behavioral health education, substance use disorder education, and infectious disease education, ECHO Idaho shares advanced medical knowledge through Zoom videoconferencing sessions to provide rural physicians and health care providers with an opportunity to learn about appropriate topics from everywhere.

In 2022, ECHO Idaho offered a group of 20 family physicians in Idaho continuing medical education credits after completing its childhood autism series. The result of these efforts is that Idaho now has 20 physicians who have a comprehensive knowledge of complex children’s health issues such as autism. Upskilling family medicine physicians in the event of an autism diagnosis is critical to support early diagnosis efforts. Early intervention is more likely to have positive long-term effects on symptoms and later skills. While 20 doctors may not sound like a lot, Idaho ranks last in the nation for pediatricians per capita; there are approximately 170 pediatricians for 450,000 children in the state.

ECHO Idaho is a reflection of the pride and unity among Idaho health care professionals who are dedicated to providing high quality patient care in urban and rural communities. In just four years, this program has become the go-to place for Idaho healthcare providers and clinicians looking to advance their knowledge to better serve their patients. ECHO Idaho is absolutely necessary to ensure that physicians and health care providers have access to continuing medical education that provides them with the necessary credentials to continue practicing in Idaho. Without it, expensive and limited continuing medical education programs will continue to push current and future doctors out of state.

One Zoom session at a time, ECHO Idaho keeps your doctors at the forefront of medical knowledge and ensures that doctors who passionately care about Idahoans stay in the Gem State.

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