HONOLULU - Technology is being used to help improve access to specialty health services across the state.

Through the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program, Hawaii health care organizations can use web video conferencing to have health specialists mentor primary care physicians in local rural and underserved communities.

"We discuss real life cases that are presented to us and we provide guidance and consultation.. and the follow up," John A. Burns School of Medicine, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Daniel Alicata said. 

Participants connect via virtual ECHO clinics, which are free two-hour teleconferences. Dr. Alicata says the real-time expertise from behavioral health specialists helps primary care physicians, nurses, and even social workers provide the best care to patients with "complex health conditions," such as Parkinson's disease and depression. As a result, he adds the program allows for neighbor islands residents to get specialty care services right where they live, rather than having to travel to another site.

"The thought of having to stop work for a day to travel to Honolulu with the expense.. To take children out of school for specialty services is a significant challenge," Dr. Alicata said. "[Through the ECHO program]  the physician can provide that care in their office within the structure they have already,"

Cory Causey with the Lokahi Treatment Center in Hilo says as a clinical supervisor it's important to stay up to date with the latest medical information, and the ECHO Hawaii program easily allows her to do just that.

"Being on the Big Island... there are some barriers, because you don't have as much opportunity as you would on Oahu," Causey said. "So this [ECHO program] has been meeting my needs both educationally and professionally"

The program also provides specialty health care training to physicians in Micronesia and Marshall islands. According to Dr. Alicata, all ECHO teleconference calls are encrypted for security reasons.

“We’re proud to support ECHO Hawaii in building a dynamic network of medical professionals to help rural health providers serve their patients even better,” Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, Samir Patel MD said in a press release.

Hawaii Rural Health Association’s ECHO program is supported by a $20,000 community benefit grant from Kaiser Permanente. 

For more information about ECHO, click here.