US Sen. Schatz’ Medical Tele-Training Bill Signed into Law
The Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) 2019 Act was signed into law this week as part of the annual government funding bill.
The bipartisan legislation, authored by US Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), establishes a $10 million per year grant program for fiscal years 2022 through 2026 to promote the use of technology to connect health care providers and deliver high-quality care in hard-to-reach regions.
“Technology hasn’t just transformed how doctors care for patients, it has helped health care providers work and learn from with each other,” Sen. Schatz said. “This new law will help connect more primary care providers in rural areas with specialists from across the country so that more families have access to the critical health care services they need.”
The new law will expand the use of the ECHO model — an innovative medical education program that deploys interactive videoconferencing to link specialist teams with primary care providers in rural areas. This helps hard-to-reach communities access the health care services they otherwise would not be able to receive.
During the pandemic, the ECHO model was used by states across the country to share best practices for treating COVID-19 patients as well as improve testing and contact tracing.
In 2016, Sen. Schatz authored the first ECHO Act, which was signed into law and initiated a study of the model. The resulting report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that the ECHO model addresses important gaps in health care for underserved populations and recommended its expansion.
Acting on this recommendation, Sen. Schatz authored the current ECHO Act, which creates a program to provide grants and technical assistance to further develop the ECHO model and other similar models and expand their use nationwide.
These grants will be used for:
- Equipment to support the use and expansion of the models, including for the secure exchange of electronic health information
- Support for health care providers that provide services under these models
- Instructional programming and training
- Information collection and evaluation activities to study the impact of such models