Major innovations in cancer prevention, screening and treatment continue to develop at a rapid pace, especially through research initiatives such as MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™ and the White House Cancer Moonshot. However, these advances are not equally accessible by all.
In many rural and underserved areas around the world, few local providers are trained to administer specialty care for the prevention or management of cancer. Patients therefore must travel to distant medical centers for high-quality cancer screening and treatment services.
Recognizing a need to improve access to cancer care in these areas, MD Anderson has been designated an ECHO superhub for oncology by the ECHO Institute at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center (UNMHSC). The designation will be made official on Feb. 10, 2017, by ECHO founder Sanjeev Arora, M.D., at an MD Anderson presentation.
Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) was originally developed in 2003 to expand local provider capacity for treating hepatitis C patients in rural New Mexico. Now, Project ECHO works with 109 partners across the United States and 21 other countries on more than 55 different medical conditions.
MD Anderson is one of just nine ECHO superhub sites in the world and the first focused on oncology. As a superhub, MD Anderson will collaborate with and train other academic cancer centers interested in using the ECHO model to improve patient access to high-quality cancer care in rural and underserved areas around the world.
The telementoring ECHO model remotely connects local primary care physicians in underserved regions with specialists from academic medical centers to share best-practice management of complex health conditions. This allows for increased access to specialty medical care in the patients’ communities without a need to recruit additional providers or refer patients to distant medical centers.
“We believe that the ECHO model has great potential to promote greater equity in care delivery across the entire cancer spectrum,” says Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and head, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “As we build a global partner network of academic and local health care providers through Project ECHO, we will establish projects to improve the capacity for local providers to provide high-quality cancer prevention, screening, and treatment options in their communities.”
MD Anderson first established an oncology-focused ECHO program in 2014 with a project aimed at improving cervical cancer prevention, screening and management services in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. In this underserved region along the Texas-Mexico border, cervical cancer rates are as much as 30 percent higher than the rest of the state, primarily due to poor health care access and few local providers trained in cervical cancer management.
MD Anderson faculty use the ECHO model to mentor local providers in educating women about the importance of screening and vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV), as well as best practices for screenings, diagnostics and early cancer management.
“Through participation in ECHO projects, local providers report both improved knowledge and ability to deliver high-quality care in their communities,” says Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., associate professor, Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.
MD Anderson has now established a series of ECHO partnerships across Texas, Latin America and Africa to address needs in tobacco cessation, survivorship and palliative care in addition to cancer prevention, screening and management. MD Anderson ECHO programs are managed by the cancer prevention and control platform, part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program.
Schmeler and Hawk will serve as directors of the MD Anderson ECHO superhub to establish and expand relationships with academic and local health care providers interested in using the ECHO model to address unique challenges in their communities.
“These rewarding partnerships also foster ongoing collaborative projects and work toward long-term solutions to disparities in cancer care,” says Schmeler. “We hope establishing a broader global network of ECHO partners for oncology will further accelerate our mission.”