Using Project ECHO telementoring to improve sickle cell disease care in the Midwest

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Sickle Treatment and Outcomes Research in the Midwest (STORM) is a regional sickle cell network, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration Treatment Demonstration Project (HRSA U1EMC27863), established to improve outcomes for individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) living in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The STORM network is led by pediatric and adult hematologists who coordinate network activities in each state, along with a Regional Coordinating Center that organizes efforts throughout the Midwest. The goal of the STORM network is to increase the number of pediatric and adult primary care providers (PCP) who are knowledgeable about the management and treatment of SCD, and who are willing to prescribe and manage hydroxyurea therapy as a means to improve medical care for the approximately 15,000 individuals living with SCD in the Midwest. One PCP engagement strategy that has been implemented to increase provider knowledge in the region is replication of the Project ECHOTM (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) telementoring model. Project ECHO was developed by the University of New Mexico to utilize low-cost, high-impact video technology to link expert inter-disciplinary specialist teams with primary care providers to improve management of chronic diseases. This guided practice telementoring model delivers complex specialty medical care to underserved areas, reduces health disparities, and increases workforce capacity. Project ECHO's methodology is based on 1) using telehealth technology to build healthcare resources where they are scarce; 2) sharing best practices to reduce variation in clinical care; 3) utilizing practice-based learning to develop specialty expertise among providers; and 4) monitoring and evaluating provider outcomes. Project ECHO has demonstrated improved healthcare outcomes in Hepatitis C and several other chronic diseases, and is now being piloted by STORM to test its feasibility and applicability for SCD by using a regional approach with CME accreditation. STORM network site physician leads in each state are recruiting multi-disciplinary primary care teams to participate as "spokes" in monthly SCD TeleECHO clinics. The "hub" led by the STORM Regional Coordinating Center, located at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, coordinates implementation and evaluation of the telementoring clinics, delivered through monthly teaching sessions. STORM TeleECHO participants log onto an internet-based virtual meeting site, using a webcam to interact during the session. STORM TeleECHO clinics include brief didactic presentations from nationally-recognized SCD content experts with topics and curriculum based on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Evidence-Based Management of Sickle Cell Disease guidelines released in 2014. TeleECHO teaching clinics also include 1-2 de-identified, HIPAA protected case discussions (pediatric and adult) presented by providers who would like medical and psychosocial feedback on management of challenging clinical scenarios. Providers participating in the STORM TeleECHO complete an initial survey assessing knowledge and comfort levels, practice behaviors (including hydroxyurea prescribing practices) and clinic demographics. Satisfaction surveys are sent to participants after each session as part of the CME-credit evaluation. Follow-up surveys at 6 months and 1 year will assess satisfaction, knowledge, comfort level and changes in practice. STORM's TeleECHO was launched in March 2016. Preliminary data indicate an interest in STORM TeleECHO teaching sessions by both pediatric and adult providers across the Midwest region. Future efforts will expand the network to more PCPs in the region, while improving the applicability and utility of STORM TeleECHO in SCD through provider assessment.