But researchers are working on quantifying results. Health IT research projects funded by HHS are already proving successful in the case of an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality project showing that widely available technology, expert training, and real-time feedback can help treat patients in underserved areas who have the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
During the study, researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNMHSC) developed a model called Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, or ECHO. Using videoconference or teleconference lines, community-based medical teams take part in weekly clinics with specialists and discuss patients' medical history, review lab results and other findings, as well as collaborate on treatment plans.
Study authors examined outcomes for 407 patients undergoing treatment for HCV infection at 21 community settings, including five prisons and a UNMHSC-affiliated clinic in Albuquerque. They found that the HCV infection was cured at a similar rate for patients who were treated at these community-based settings as patients who were treated at the university clinic (58.2% vs. 57.5%).
"Project ECHO demonstrates that we can solve the problems of underserved communities by empowering primary care clinicians to provide high-quality specialty care locally," Sanjeev Arora, M.D., the liver disease specialist at UNMHSC who created Project ECHO, said in a statement.
The study appears in the June 2 online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and in the June 9 print edition.