PHOTOS: https://www.flickr.com/photos/senatortomudall/sets/72157673986346193/with/31532253061/

ALBUQUERQUE, NM ' Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall visited with Project ECHO leaders at the University of New Mexico to discuss their innovative model to expand health care in rural communities. Udall sat in on a demonstration of a teleECHO clinic during a roundtable with rural providers over video-conference and met with the project's founder, Dr. Sanjeev Arora, to discuss how the ECHO model has improved rural access to health care.

Udall is a longtime supporter of the innovative tele-health program, which connects health care specialists and experts to primary care physicians in hard-to-reach areas using interactive video-conferencing. Originally designed to combat the Hepatitis-C epidemic in New Mexico, Project ECHO now enables patients to get treatment for a diverse array of disease conditions from various levels of health care providers, and it has grown to serve communities nationwide and internationally.

In the Senate, Udall cosponsored the ECHO Act, a bill to continue expanding the ECHO model across the country by integrating it into existing programs at the Department of Health and Human Services to improve access to health care in rural communities throughout the nation. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last month and is expected to be signed by the president shortly.

"I came to UNM to hear an update from Dr. Arora about the incredible work of Project ECHO, which is one of the most innovative models for expanding health care in rural communities across the world," Udall said. "Dr. Arora tackled a serious health care challenge head-on by developing Project ECHO, and this is the kind of innovation that stems from a community coming together to create a solution that best meets its needs. All New Mexicans deserve quality health care no matter where they live, and ensuring accessible, quality health care in rural communities is a priority of mine. I was very proud to cosponsor the ECHO Act in the Senate to create an even greater expansion of Project ECHO, and I will continue to fight for funding for this and other health care innovation in Congress."

"Senator Udall has been a long time supporter of Project ECHO and has on numerous occasions helped to facilitate funding for ECHO," said Dr. Arora. "As an early advocate for the ECHO Act he was integral to helping it pass into law. We are grateful for all that he has done, and look forward to continuing this positive relationship to help underserved populations of New Mexico receive high-quality health care where they live."

While a quarter of Americans live in rural communities, only 10 percent of physicians practice in these areas. Partly because of lack of access to care, rural residents are more likely to suffer from some chronic diseases. Project ECHO bridges the gap between doctors living in cities and patients in need of care in rural areas.

In addition to being a successful tool for tackling hard-to-treat diseases, the Project ECHO model has been used to treat behavioral health issues, improve patient care and satisfaction, increase knowledge and reduce isolation for providers, and improve retention rates for physicians in rural, underserved areas. Project ECHO is also leading the fight to treat HIV in Indian Country and looking for innovative ways to democratize information so medical professionals can get the support and professional development they need to keep up with the rapidly changing world of medicine.

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