US medical system which reduced consultant waiting lists may be key to health service reform here

Dr Sanjeev Arora

Dr Sanjeev Arora

A new medical model which has resulted in major reductions in consultant waiting lists in the United States may be one of the keys to the reform of the health service here.

Dr Sanjeev Arora, a hepatitis C specialist at the University of New Mexico, spearheaded the groundbreaking initiative known as Project ECHO.

He was frustrated by the lengthy number of patients waiting to see him and their lack of access to quality care.

Specialists were concentrated at the University hospital, waiting lists and travel times were long, and primary/community care lacked the specific expertise and confidence to treat patients’ conditions in a timely manner.

Dr Arora devised a tele-conferencing system which enabled consultants to upskill GPs in their catchment areas to be “super specialists” in various disciplines which were most in demand from patients.

The results were outstanding and saw consultant waiting lists drop from eight months to eight weeks. In some cases they were down to three weeks. This system has now been replicated across several other states in the US.

Fine Gael senator, Fidelma Healy Eames, believes Project Echo could be the cure for some of the Irish health service’s ills.

“In my view this is a radical, exciting and cost effective solution which could improve our health service. We really need to find a way here to reduce waiting lists.

“Using the Project ECHO approach - during each TeleECHO clinic - the GP or clinician presents the patient’s case by telephone or video conference to the consultant. ECHO specialists and other primary/ community participants discuss the patient’s case and recommendations are made for diagnosis/ treatment. If needed, cases may then be reviewed on a regular basis. Through Project ECHO, primary /community clinicians hear various case presentations and over time greatly increase their knowledge and experience in the treatment of the given disease or condition.”

The senator, who met Dr Sanjeev at the Change Nation event held in Farmleigh earlier this year, has asked Health Minister Dr James Reilly to examine the benefits of the Project Echo model for Ireland’s health system.

She says while the level of care here is excellent access to services remain problematic.

“I am delighted to learn today that Minister Reilly may be engaging in a teleconference with Dr Sanjeev before the end of the month. I look forward to exciting developments in this area.

“The Minister has taken a very open minded view to health service reform and I would hope that this new approach could be utilised to help improve our health service.”

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