In 2016, the Cancer Care Coordinator at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Connecticut Healthcare System (VACT) in West Haven partnered with the VA New England Healthcare System to use its telementoring program. The VA Specialty Care Access Network Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (VA ECHO) was used to present a series of educational conferences on cancer care. This article describes our experience implementing the program and reviews participant feedback gathered from voluntary surveys.
In 2011, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Healthcare Transformation launched VA ECHO, a telementoring program for primary care providers (PCPs) and patient-aligned care team staff. VACT was selected as 1 of 7 hub sites across the US. The VA ECHO system uses video and online technology to provide PCPs with case-based specialist consultation and didactic education. The system enables providers at any VA location to participate in online and telephone conferences in real time. The presentations are recorded and made available online to VA providers through a secure site.
VA ECHO is based on the highly successful Project ECHO model established by Sanjeev Arora and the University of New Mexico in 2007.1 The rationale for Project ECHO was that patient care could be improved by increasing the competence of PCPs in the management of complex diseases by providing access to disease specialists through a case-based learning approach that used technology, which it termed knowledge networks, to connect the PCPs to specialists.
The original model addressed management of hepatitis C in a medically underserved area where half of the population was widely geographically dispersed, making the provision of specialty care challenging. Developers identified 6 characteristics that make a disease appropriate for treatment using the Project ECHO knowledge network model:
- The disease is common;
- Management of the disease is complex;
- Treatment for the disease is evolving;
- The disease has a high societal impact;
- There are serious outcomes if the disease is not treated; and
- Disease management improves outcomes.1
VA ECHO conferences are available to all VA personnel. Staff can subscribe to an e-mail group list to be alerted to conference times and topics. Participants can connect directly to the conference using Microsoft Outlook Lync or Skype (Redmond, WA) and see the slides in real time on their computer as they listen to the presentation. The presentations are recorded, and the slides with audio can be accessed easily on the VA ECHO SharePoint site for download, enabling VA staff to listen to conferences at their convenience (Figure).
VA Cancer ECHO
The impetus to create a series of talks related to cancer care using VA ECHO was the frequent and often time-consuming requests we received from colleagues at other VA sites for information about areas of cancer care, such as survivorship and cancer care coordination. It was felt that presenting cancer care information as a VA ECHO series would make this information available to a large group of providers at one time, making the method more time effective than sharing the information via one-on-one conversations.