Project ECHO Idaho is changing our health care landscape, one Zoom meeting at a time

The program provides continuing medical education credits for health care professionals as they connect, collaborate and learn in rural areas of the state, writes guest columnist Katy Palmer.

July 14, 2022 4:05 am
Medical Form

Project ECHO Idaho formed in 2018 to offer continuing medical education credits at no cost to health care professionals in Idaho’s remote or underserved communities. (Getty Images)

Idaho’s rural communities face the largest disparity when it comes to accessing quality health care.

With 35 out of 44 of Idaho’s counties considered medically underserved, the need for health care professionals to treat the complex and evolving needs of their communities is greater than ever. Accessing health care in rural areas is often difficult due to geographic location, an aging population and a declining health care workforce. The shortage of physicians in Idaho for nearly two decades has impacted the care its providers can supply. This leaves Idaho communities with only one doctor for about every 600 residents.

As is true in many states, Idaho requires continuing medical education for physicians who practice in the Gem State. Continuing medical education is purposeful in training health care practitioners to better understand the current standards of care. However, the types of continuing medical education credits available are often limited and expensive.

To address these issues, Project ECHO Idaho formed in 2018 to offer continuing medical education at no cost to health care professionals in Idaho’s remote or underserved communities. Utilizing the rising trend of telemedicine, the program provides an accessible way for health care providers and clinicians to access relevant information and best practices while earning free continuing medical education credits in weekly one-hour sessions.

In just four years, ECHO Idaho has helped over 3,100 medical professionals from 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties earn over 10,000 free continuing medical education credit hours. Bringing together multidisciplinary specialists in behavioral health education, substance use disorder education, and infectious disease education, ECHO Idaho shares advanced medical knowledge through Zoom video conferencing sessions to provide rural physicians and health care providers the opportunity to learn about relevant topics from anywhere.

In 2022, ECHO Idaho offered a group of 20 Idaho family physicians continuing medical education credits upon completion of its Pediatric Autism series. The result of this effort is that Idaho now has 20 physicians who have comprehensive knowledge about complex children’s health concerns like autism. Enhancing family medicine physicians’ skills in the case of autism diagnosis is critical in helping early diagnosis efforts. Early intervention is more likely to have positive long-term effects on symptoms and later skills. While 20 doctors may not sound like a lot, Idaho ranks dead last in the nation for pediatricians per capita; there are approximately 170 pediatricians for the 450,000 children in the state.

ECHO Idaho is a reflection of the pride and unity between health care professionals in Idaho who are dedicated to providing high-quality care for patients in urban and rural communities. In just four years, this program has become the go-to place for Idaho health care providers and clinicians looking to advance their knowledge to better serve their patients. ECHO Idaho is absolutely necessary to ensure physicians and health care providers have access to continuing medical education that provides the credentials necessary for them to continue practicing in Idaho. Without it, high-cost and limited continuing medical education programs will continue to push current and future physicians out of state.

One Zoom session at a time, ECHO Idaho keeps your physicians at the forefront of medical knowledge and makes sure the physicians who are passionate about caring for Idahoans get to stay in the Gem State.

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Katy Palmer
Katy Palmer

Passionate about working to enhance medical access and care throughout her home state, Katy Palmer is the interim director for ECHO Idaho and has previously served as ECHO Idaho's assistant director. Her educational and professional background include leading public health and health research programs in California, Idaho and Fiji. Katy holds a bachelor's degree from California Polytechnic State University and is pursuing a master of public health degree at Idaho State University.