Introduction Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a tele-mentoring programme that uses video-conferencing technology to deliver, evidence-based education from specialists and case-based learning with peers.
The Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland identified Project ECHO as a methodology to implement change. The vision was to engage with medical professionals to develop communities of practice, enhance knowledge, skills, and ultimately improve patient/client care. Project ECHO networks were established with a specific focus on (neurology, gynaecology, musculoskeletal, dermatology, ENT, cardiology, diabetes, and gastroenterology), along with a ‘GP support’ network. Network participants identified topics to be included within their curriculum ensuring a tailored approach to education delivery. Participants set the network objectives and the outcomes they hoped to achieve. ECHO sessions were held monthly and each network typically delivered nine sessions.
Method Participatory monitoring and evaluation was used to identify outcomes for ECHO network participants. Evaluation surveys were issued after the final session.
Results 361 medical professionals attended at least one ECHO session across the networks outlined above. 36% (131/361) responded to the evaluation survey. Results indicated participants valued access to education from specialists, to ask questions directly, and seek advice from secondary care colleagues. Participants reported knowledge of conditions and symptoms, confidence and capacity to treat patients in primary care increased. Improvements in relationships between primary and secondary care were also reported. Benefits reported by ‘GP Support’ included the ability to get advice from experienced colleagues, and that topics covered in the sessions were not usually covered in training for GPs. Also, joining the sessions remotely was a frequently cited as a benefit and to be a productive use of time. Professional isolation was reduced and satisfaction was increased.
Conclusion Project ECHO is an ideal methodology for not only delivering education and advice to medical professionals but also as a mechanism for support in an isolated profession.
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