Video Medicine in the Desert (New Mexico)

  • Local Projects
  • 2003

There aren’t enough medical specialists available to treat some illnesses, particularly in rural areas. Telemedicine, however, allows primary physicians and nurses in more remote locations to bring in specialists to consult with their patients via video. In a state like New Mexico—with a population of 2 million spread over 120,000 square miles, and just one academic health center to serve them all—this offers big enhancements of basic primary care.

Project ECHO is a philanthropically supported telemedicine initiative that aims to radically and inexpensively expand the availability of expert care to rural New Mexicans. The mechanism is simple: Local family doctors join weekly videoconferences with a panel of specialists, where they present their patients’ cases and receive advice on what treatments to pursue.

The program began with a focus on improving care for hepatitis C, a serious health problem in New Mexico. It has since developed a capacity to address many chronic conditions. The latest addition is mental-health services offered by video link, with major support from the GE Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.