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Project Echo – providing complex care in local communities


A new initiative, aimed at helping people with complex long term conditions, will train GPs, nurses, and other clinicians, via video conference, to provide specialised care to patients in their local community.

Originally developed in New Mexico, Project ECHO® builds groups of clinical professionals which can provide complex care to patients in their local community and reduce the number of referrals made to specialist clinics and other centres.

Funded by the Health and Social Care Board, Project ECHO®Northern Ireland plans to run 21 different networks this year facilitated by the Northern Ireland Hospice ECHO team across the region.

Professor Max Watson

Professor Max Watson

The project aims to bring GPs and other clinicians together using videoconferencing to participate in guided practice discussions with specialist mentors. Those participating in the discussion across multiple locations acquire new skills and support to treat their patients who otherwise would have to be referred to other specialists. Patients with complex chronic long term conditions, including dementia, diabetes and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), get specialist supported care where they live, from their local GP or specialist nurse whom they know.

Project ECHO®lead, Professor Max Watson said: “GPs are specialists in their patients. Linking their specialist knowledge with that of disease specialists allows for the best treatments to be delivered close to their patient’s own home. GPs benefit from this initiative by being supported in delivering complex care. Specialists benefit by multiplying their impact and, most importantly, patients win by having fewer appointments at distant specialist centres.”

Dr Carol Dalzell

Dr Carol Dalzell

Among those who have been involved in this new initiative in Northern Ireland is GP Dr Carol Dalzell, network lead for the four Integrated Care Partnerships in the Northern area.

“During the forthcoming training sessions, COPD experts will come together as a multidisciplinary team and will be joined via teleconference by GPs and practice nurses, who learn together through the practical review of annonymised patient cases.

“Rather than information flowing in one direction, GPs will learn from specialists, they will learn from each other, and specialists will learn from community providers as new best practices emerge. This is all about sharing and learning together in a supportive environment,” she said.

Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs) are a new way of working for the health service in Northern Ireland to transform how care is delivered.

The 17 ICPs across Northern Ireland are collaborative networks of care providers, bringing together doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and hospital specialists; the voluntary and community sectors; local council representatives; and service users and carers, to redesign services and work more closely together to keep people well in local communities.

To find out more about ICPs visit: http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/icps/

View a short video on Project ECHO® here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lBfyOlL4_s

To find out more about Project ECHO® visit: http://echonorthernireland.co.uk