Rural communities represent 41 percent of Kentucky’s population, and yet only 17 percent of the state’s primary care physicians work in rural areas. In addition, with only 15 geriatric medicine specialists serving the Commonwealth, older adults living in rural communities may experience difficulty finding providers trained in best-practices for the geriatric population. 

Participants of the first ECHO session held during the second week of December. Image credit: UofL.

The University of Louisville (UofL) Trager Institute is working to expand the size of the geriatrics workforce by launching a series of short education enrichment tracks, known as Project ECHO - Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes. This program provides virtual learning opportunities on topics ranging from compassionate care of older adults with dementia to age-friendly hospitals. 

Project ECHO is a tele-mentoring movement dedicated to sharing knowledge and amplifying the capacity of health care professionals to provide best-practice care for the medically underserved. Launched in 2003 at the University of New Mexico, Project ECHO originally was designed to teach physicians in rural New Mexico specialized hepatitis C treatment. Today, there are more than 220 Project ECHO hubs in 31 countries, treating more than 100 diseases and conditions. 

Recognizing a need for increased specialists, particularly in rural communities, Project ECHO utilizes a low-bandwidth teleconferencing platform to create hub-and-spoke knowledge-sharing networks. By creating digital learning communities and connecting hubs of experts with practitioners in rural communities, Project ECHO improves treatment by moving information instead of people.

Each of the UofL Trager Institute’s Project ECHO education tracks focuses on specialized skills to empower partners to improve the quality of life of adults ages 50-plus. The tracks include the following topics: care of older adults, compassionate care for persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias, opioid use disorder and alternate pain management strategies in older adults, hospice and palliative care connection, and age-friendly hospitals.

 Continuing education soon will be offered through several tracks.