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Stephen Thomas, MD, conducting a Project ECHO session on March 17.

Upstate using Project ECHO to offer experts, share advice on COVID-19; next session March 26

Upstate Medical University is tapping into its existing telehealth programming to share vital information and foster communication among medical professionals from around the country about COVID-19.

For the last two years, Upstate has been part of the global Project ECHO network, which uses teleconferencing to give access to experts about specific health and medical topics. To date, Upstate – the only provider in Central New York to offer the technology – has conducted about 100 Project Echo sessions focused on four areas: pediatrics, geriatrics, toxicology and endocrinology.

But during this global COVID-19 pandemic, when sharing rapidly changing information among medical professionals is in high demand and critical to public health, ECHO is proving invaluable, said Project ECHO Manager Deidre Keefe.

Keefe coordinated two, hour-long Project ECHO sessions on Tuesday, March 17 with another planned for next week. The first featured Stephen Thomas, MD, Upstate’s division chief of infectious disease and was attended by at about 100 medical professionals from across 10 New York state counties and beyond. They included staff from multiple county health departments, general physicians and pediatricians, emergency room personnel, social workers and others including an EMT and a flight nurse, Keefe said. Thomas provided a 40-minute presentation about COVID-19 followed by questions from attendees.

“I’m sure we could have spent three more hours sitting there,” Keefe said. “We really touched on a lot of different areas. We are very willing to share; the message of the program is to de-monopolize knowledge and to share. We are trying very hard to serve our community but we make sure that anyone who is looking for information is able to join and participate.”

The second session was conducted by Jana Shaw, MD, MPH, MS, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at Upstate. Shaw has previously conducted Project ECHO sessions before and this week’s ECHO session was in place of the Pediatric Society of Central New York’s monthly meeting as it was not able to meet in person due to current social distancing guidelines. That session of nearly 100 participants was comprised of a short presentation by Shaw followed by a conversation that focused on the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and local testing availability.

“On one day we were able to educate about 200 individuals, which is huge on this crazy, changing case,” she said. “A typical session for me is about an average of 22 participants.”

Project ECHO, which is a global project founded in 2003, uses Zoom technology to create the group video call. Attendees can participate on camera or just using audio and may submit questions via computer microphone or by typing them into a chat box. The software has proven easy to use and its various participation options have been helpful for people in different working or environmental situations, Keefe said.

“Zoom is extremely easy technology. It’s been really beneficial,” Keefe said. “You click the link and you’re in the meeting.”

Upstate is planning to host another Project ECHO session on COVID-19 at noon on Thursday, March 26, Keefe said. She expects it to be an update on what was presented this week followed by more questions from participants.

“As more and more people become diagnosed with COVID-19, especially those in outlying primary care provider offices, (health care professionals) will be able to get really up-to-date help and information on a case by case basis during these presentations,” Keefe said.

To participate in a future session or learn more about Project Echo, visit www.upstate.edu/echo.


Caption: Stephen Thomas, MD, Upstate’s division chief of infectious disease, led a Project ECHO session at Upstate on Tuesday that was attended by more than 100 medical professionals.