Project ECHO: Physicians, care providers fight the opioid crisis with technology

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — Doctors are using a new method to fight the opioid crisis. A program based in Richmond is reaching physicians and care providers across the Commonwealth to share different ways to help keep people on the path to recovery with technology. 

“We’re going to go ahead and get started,” Bhakti Dave, the program manager, said Friday as more people began to dial in to – essentially – a virtual clinic called at Virginia Opioid Project ECHO at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Health Network. 

The program is a form of telehealth or information technology to give a variety of care from a distance. You may have also heard of the term telemedicine, which is sometimes used interchangeably. Telemedicine tends to focus more on direct clinical services. Many who called in were doctors, social workers or people who work at Community Service Boards (CSB) in all reaches of Virginia, waiting to learn more about different approaches to recovery and treatment for people addicted to opioids. 

It serves as a hub to brainstorm and bounce off ideas from practitioners. Some even bring in case studies of real patients to get advice on how to handle the situation.

“Project ECHO tries to raise the bar to educate and create a level of specialist care at their local communities,” Dr. Vimal Mishra, the medical director of telehealth at VCU health, said. 

More than 250 groups participated in the project since it launched last May. Dr. Mishra says about 33% of them have used what they’ve learned from Project ECHO in their clinical practice. Virginia recently has made strides in the reduction of opioid overdose deaths. According to the Virginia Department of Health, more than 1,400 died from opioid overdoses in 2018. That’s down by more than 3% from the year before. 

Dr. Mishra says some areas might not have as many resources to fight the fix, but Project ECHO has helped bridge “the gap of continuum care for the opioid crisis.” 

Doctors hope this project is another step to help people on the path to recovery. 

The project gets grant money from the federal government’s Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration Opioid STR grant and another grant by the Centers for Disease Control. These federal dollars are distributed through the Virginia Department of Health. 

A university spokesperson said they could not disclose how much money they have received from the government for the project. 

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