Online initiative aims to reduce waiting times for patients

Liver disease specialist Dr Sanjeev Arora set up project Echo.

Liver disease specialist Dr Sanjeev Arora set up project Echo.


Waiting lists for rheumatology consultants could be significantly reduced by an online initiative to treat patients, which will be launched in Kildare tomorrow.

Some 20 GPs around Ireland will be taught best-practice methods for treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis through video-conferencing with specialists and experts operating out of Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.

The initiative is part of project Echo (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), which aims to improve healthcare for complex conditions in rural and distant communities all over the world.

Liver disease specialist Dr Sanjeev Arora, who set up project Echo, said that this would create new “centres of expertise” throughout the country which could reduce consultation waiting times to just “a few weeks”.

It is also believed that early treatment of conditions, along with reducing travel costs and the need to see specialists, could help to generate €20 million in savings.

Quality of care
Rheumatologist Dr Trevor Duffy, who will be guiding the project from Blanchardstown, believes the initiative will also lead to patients getting a better quality of care.

More than 40 healthcare institutions worldwide have now used Echo to treat 15 different clinical specialities including asthma, pain and diabetes.

When Dr Arora first established the project 10 years ago, it was designed to enhance treatment of hepatitis C.

The disease affects about 170 million people worldwide, but only 2 per cent of patients are treated.

There was an eight-month waiting list for patients attending Dr Arora’s clinic at the University of New Mexico, a state where more than 35,000 people are affected.

Dr Arora said that even though effective treatments existed, less than 5 per cent had received them and “patients were dying”.

At the time no GPs in the state were treating hepatitis C. Patients had to visit Dr Arora, or another specialist, on more than a dozen separate occasions so that they could receive the necessary injections.

“Poor people couldn’t get to see me because they would have often lived hundreds of miles away,” he told The Irish Times. “They couldn’t access it because of long waits and long distances to travel.”

Dr Arora recruited 20 primary care providers, such as family physicians, to train to specialist level. A best practice protocol for treatment was created and shared with each of these people. Over the internet, they then co-managed their patients with specialists at the university.

“Within a year of doing this, they actually became experts,” Dr Arora said, adding that the level of care they delivered was as good as that delivered at the university clinic and better than the average specialist.

“Then we tried it in rheumatology, substance use and mental health disorder. We found that it worked on many, many diseases,” he said.

Dr Arora believes that using the Echo process to treat rheumatological conditions in Ireland could also be highly effective.

Mental health

The initiative will be launched when he addresses the National Primary Care Conference at Newbridge Primary Care Centre tomorrow, where a mental health care conference will also be taking place.