Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Puzzling Over Universal Healthcare

     Sometimes I want to groan when someone implores people to "think outside the box" but that cliched, hackneyed worn out phrase really does sum up the essence of solving difficult problems.
You have to leave your well-trod paths, your comfort zone, your usual order of burger with fries. 

     Finding ways of making sure everyone gets the access to high quality health care means we need to leave our comfort zone and our cliches behind.

     Project Echo is a great example of creative problem solving that uses tools we already have ... and it doesn't require us to make any changes to our existing health care system.  The Project specifically offers one solution to the poor distribution of medical specialists in the country.

     People in poor and rural communities have access to fewer physicians, because most tend to settle in high density areas with high per capita incomes. Medical specialists are particularly scarce in rural areas and they don't tend to open offices in low-rent neighborhoods.  Project Echo targets areas with too few medical specialists by offering regular video teleconferences with teams of specialists to primary doctors who have practices in poor neighborhoods or far from urban centers.

     The project, which has enjoyed success in Albuquerque, NM and recently expanded to Illinois, pairing specialists from the University of Chicago Medical Center with family physicians serving low-income patients from the South Side of Chicago.

     Now these front line doctors, who often see their patients at sliding fee clinics, can tap into the knowledge reservoirs of learned colleagues on a regular schedule. It's efficient, economical, and distributes medical capacity to where it needed most.

     I first learned of this at a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation blog,  check out Pioneering Ideas where Project Echo received an enthusiastic review.  It's not a total solution, yet we can build on it and connect it to other programs and initiatives.   It's one more piece to a sprawling jigsaw puzzle.

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