UAB launches tele-mentoring program for health care providers on substance use disorder

Project ECHO links medical professionals with an expert in a particular field in an interactive video format to boost learning and, ultimately, patient care.

wallace 2UAB Medicine will launch a series of innovative online learning experiences for health care providers on the subject of opioid use disorder. This unique tele-mentoring program links medical experts with other providers throughout the state. Called Project ECHO, or extension of community health care outcomes, the goal is to foster interactive collaboration in case-based learning to improve patient care.

“Project ECHO uses recent advances in technology and video teleconferencing to replicate the learning experiences most health care providers had as students or residents,” said Eric Wallace, M.D., medical director of UAB Medicine’s eMedicine program. “It allows an expert in a field to impart important lessons to potentially large numbers of health care providers at one time.”

Wallace describes Project ECHO as a kind of virtual version of the traditional hospital rounds in an academic medical center. During rounds, a senior physician visits each patient on a unit, accompanied by a team of residents, medical students and other health care professionals. They discuss each case, pose and answer questions, and come to conclusions on the appropriate patient care. Project ECHO provides a similar environment for learning.

“We’ve selected substance use disorder as our central theme,” Wallace said. “Participants will send in a de-identified case study of a particular problem they have encountered. The expert presenter will provide some basic information on the topic, and then examine the case studies in conjunction with all participants. Everyone engaged in the conference has an opportunity to learn and to participate in the discussion, an ‘all teach, all learn’ model.”

Wallace says substance use disorder was chosen for the first UAB Medicine Project ECHO due to the rise of substance abuse issues connected to the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of trained health care professionals in the field. 

“Alabama does not have enough specialists in substance abuse to manage every patient,” he said. “With some additional training, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and other health care providers could be important players in rendering the right care at the right time. Project ECHO seeks to provide that training on a large scale in a way that is inexpensive and accessible to medical professionals.

Project ECHO is a national program. Any medical topic could be featured through the program.

UAB’s Department of Pediatrics, with Children’s of Alabama, has a continuing series on pediatric diabetes. This will be the first Project ECHO at UAB Medicine to focus on an adult condition. 

The series is funded by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Environmental head shot of Dr. Eric Wallace, MD (Associate Professor, Nephrology), 2019.Wallace intends Project ECHO to provide regular tele-conferences for the next year. The first five have been scheduled, beginning Oct. 13. 

  • The Opioid Epidemic in Alabama, led by Davis Bradford, M.D., noon, Oct. 13
  • Opioid Use Disorder in Pregnancy, led by Li Li, M.D., noon, Oct. 19
  • Back Pain, led by Mark Bailey, M.D., noon, Oct. 27
  • Is it Opioid Use Disorder?, led by Leah Leisch, M.D., noon, Nov. 10
  • Substance Abuse Disorder and HIV, led by Ellen Eaton, M.D., noon, Dec. 8 

Medical professionals interested in participating can register here.