If you need to see a rheumatologist in Arizona, chances are you’re going to have to wait — especially if you’re in a rural area. These specialists are in short supply in the United States, and the demand for them is high as the population ages.
To address this workforce issue without making patients travel long distances or wait months for an appointment to see a rheumatologist, the Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and the UA Center for Rural Health (AzCRH) at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health partnered to create a program in Arizona that will train primary care providers to treat rheumatic diseases.
The program will use the ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) model™, developed at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, which aims to increase workforce capacity by sharing knowledge. Primary care providers in local communities develop skills to deliver specialty-care services to their patients by meeting regularly via videoconferencing with specialists at an academic “hub” site. The specialists share their medical knowledge and expertise, serving as mentors and colleagues.
Unlike “traditional telemedicine,” where the specialist assumes care of the patient, Project ECHO programs provide front-line clinicians with the knowledge and support they need to manage their patients with complex conditions in the patients’ own communities. This dramatically increases access to specialty treatment in rural and underserved areas.
The program is funded by a $17,700 grant from Lilly to launch a one-year rheumatology ECHO pilot program.
“We can leverage and enhance relationships with our primary-care providers, rural and critical access hospitals through our center,” said Dr. Dan Derksen, director of the AzCRH at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.