A program launched at the University of Missouri is helping family doctors better screen for and begin treating autism spectrum disorders in children.
Local doctors might not know all the ways to recognize autism that a specialist, such as those at the University of Missouri hospital, might. The new program – Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, or ECHO – lets specialists train and consult with local practitioners through videoconferencing.
Associate Professor and ECHO director Kristin (sole) Sohl told Missourinet the result is that autism patients can be treated by family practitioners.
“That allows the family to get care right there in their own hometown as opposed to having to drive to the University System for that level of care,” said Sohl. “We are able to provide that type of mentorship and care through the pediatrician, family physician, or nurse practitioner.”
The ECHO model began at the University of New Mexico and has been applied in treating many other conditions, including hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and addiction. MU developed the first application of the ECHO model for the care of children with autism, so that children in rural communities can get care more like that of those in larger communities.
“We’re trying to change the conversation about autism so that people who don’t have access to specialty centers can still have access to the best practice care,” said Sohl. “Families can be recognized sooner, get a diagnosis sooner, and then enter treatment and therapy more quickly, to improve their outcomes.”
In the pilot, local doctors improved and showed more confidence in diagnosing and responding to autism. MU is working to replicate the program in ten more academic centers that would see it reach doctors and patients in other parts of the U.S., and Canada.
“We are open to new providers joining at any time,” said Sohl. She said those providers interested in participating need to contact her or the Missouri Telehealth Network.