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Weekly video chat is helping Oregon primary care providers tackle COVID-19

OHSU, OHA offer informational coronavirus sessions for health care workers
A video still image shows a weekly meeting of Oregon Health & Science Universitys Oregon ECHO Network. The network partnered with the Oregon Health Authority to focus the meetings on the coronavirus pandemic, and provide hundreds of Oregon primary care clinicians with reliable information. (OHSU)

A weekly video meeting is providing hundreds of Oregon primary care clinicians with reliable information they need to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, one community at a time.

The virtual Thursday gatherings are organized by Oregon Health & Science University’s Oregon ECHO Network, which normally offers informational sessions on opioid abuse, psychiatric issues and a myriad of other topics frequently addressed by the state’s primary care clinicians. But after the COVID-19 pandemic reached Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown asked the network to partner with the Oregon Health Authority to quickly shift gears and focus on the new virus.

More than 700 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and other health care workers have attended each coronavirus ECHO session since the first was held March 19. Clinicians from 35 of the state’s 36 counties have participated in the three sessions offered so far. Typically, each ECHO session has about 25 participants.

Nancy Elder, M.D., M.S.P.H.
Nancy Elder, M.D., M.S.P.H.

“Primary care providers around the state want to do the best for their patients during the coronavirus outbreak, but they’re overwhelmed and confused by conflicting advice,” said Nancy Elder, M.D., M.S.P.H., director of the Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network, which includes the Oregon ECHO Network.

The weekly ECHO sessions aim to cut through the informational clutter and directly provide the most relevant and up-to-date information to the state’s health care workers. Each hour-and-15-minute session includes a presentation of the latest COVID-19 data and knowledge from OHA, county health leaders and other specialists, followed by a discussion of topics raised by the participants themselves.

Those discussions have included how health care workers can best use personal protective equipment when COVID-19 testing is appropriate, and how clinics can adjust their operations to prevent the virus’ spread while also continuing to care for their patients’ other health needs.

Ron Stock, M.D.
Ron Stock, M.D.

“Many rural primary care providers are spokespeople in their own communities,” said Ron Stock, M.D., Oregon ECHO Network clinical innovation adviser and coronavirus ECHO session facilitator. “Community members ask these providers about what they should do. Through ECHO, providers are able to gather up-to-date and reliable coronavirus information, and then pass that information on to their communities.”

The weekly ECHO sessions are scheduled to continue through at least May 7. Health care professionals who wish to participate in the next Thursday session can register online.

OHSU started the Oregon ECHO Network in 2017 to help primary care providers treat chronic and complex conditions in their own clinics, particularly clinics in rural areas that care for underserved populations. It is modeled after University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO,® which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes.

The Oregon ECHO Network is coordinated by OHSU’S Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network, also known as ORPRN, a statewide network of primary care practices that employ applicable research in their clinics to improve patient care.

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