Support for rural health care passes Senate

Legislation to support telemedicine programs that connect health providers with patients in rural communities passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate on Nov. 29, and now heads to the House for consideration.

The Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services to analyze use of technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models to improve health outcomes, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted for the bill.

S. 2873, introduced by Senators Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would expand New Mexico’s Project ECHO into a national model for using telehealth for rural areas.

Project ECHO initiated in 2003 at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, with a focus on treating hepatitis C and has since expanded worldwide and to include many other health conditions, according to the website www.healthcare-informatics.com

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The bill also calls for a U.S. Government Accountability Office report regarding opportunities for increased adoption of such models, efficiencies and potential cost savings from such models, ways to improve health care through such models, and field recommendations to advance the use of such models, the website report said.

Murkowski said he remains committed to ensuring that Alaskans have access to quality health care.

“Utilizing technology and innovative delivery models to meet healthcare needs is imperative in rural states like Alaska,” Murkowski said. “By passing this bill, we will expand health care treatment options to Alaskans no matter where they live.”