CHI St. Luke’s Health–Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center Strengthens Access to Quality Community Health Services with Project Echo Program

CHI St. Luke’s Health–Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center (Baylor St. Luke’s) announced that it has made significant strides in improving community health through its telehealth program Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). Recently, the program reached an important milestone with its first patient case to be cured of the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Launched last year, Project ECHO enables Baylor St. Luke’s specialists to not only train, but to mentor primary care providers, in underserved and rural Texas communities, on treating patients who have been diagnosed with the chronic disease.

“This is a double win for us,” said Norman Sussman, MD, hepatologist and Project ECHO director. “We’re very happy that the patient is now cured of hepatitis C, but also extremely proud of the community provider who took on this complex case. In return, she is learning a new specialized skill set, which can be used to treat other hepatitis C patients in her community.”

Via videoconferencing clinics, Dr. Sussman and Lizette Escamilla, Baylor St. Luke’s Project ECHO Coordinator, worked with physician assistant Renita Madu of Central Care Community Health Center in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood, to treat 51-year-old patient John Rocks. For nearly 30 years, Mr. Rocks was living with the virus before being diagnosed in 2012. Uninsured, he was referred to Wayne Gosbee, Baylor St. Luke’s Liver Health Outreach coordinator, for an initial screening. Unfamiliar with hepatitis C, Ms. Madu was able to attend Project ECHO’s Hepatitis C Clinic with Baylor St. Luke’s specialists who were able to recommend the appropriate course of action for treatment.

“Project ECHO has been a tremendous service to our clinic. A lot of our patients don’t have the financial nor the transportation resources to go to a hospital in the Texas Medical Center,” said Ms. Madu. “I’m very thankful for the support of the physicians at Baylor St. Luke’s who help alleviate that burden for myself and my patients. With their help, I now have the confidence to take on chronic diseases cases like hepatitis C in a primary care setting.”

Based on Mr. Rocks’ genotype, Baylor St. Luke’s recommended a 90-day oral regimen treatment that he was able to take in the comfort of his own home. After the first 90 days, he showed no signs of hepatitis C. Now after 180 days, he’s still showing no signs of the hepatitis C virus.

“It’s a blessing to receive this medicine at no cost,” said Mr. Rocks. “I was scared not having insurance. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I hope that Project ECHO will be able to reach more people like myself.”

To date, Baylor St. Luke’s Project ECHO is working with 60 community health providers in 30 counties across Texas. In addition to hepatitis C, the program also offers clinics in hepatitis B, cardiology, infectious disease, and advanced liver disease.

“Through Project ECHO, our goal is to enhance the quality of community health,” said Dr. Sussman. “Our telehealth model allows us to utilize local resources to respond to community needs, while also growing the competence of the community provider.”

For more information on Project ECHO, contact Lizette Escamilla at lescamilla@stlukeshealth.org.