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Rural eConsult Program Expected to Grow with New Federal Funds

Rural eConsult Program Expected to Grow with New Federal Funds

A $403,000 appropriation secured by Rep. Jason Crow expands crucial specialty medical care to health centers across rural Colorado.

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Written by Kara Mason on June 24, 2024

The Peer Mentored Care Collaborative (PMCC), based at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, will expand crucial telehealth services to rural Coloradans in need of specialty care with the help of new federal funding.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) joined program and campus leaders Friday to announce the $403,000 Community Project Funding Request, which he secured earlier this year in the fiscal year 2024 government funding bill, and praised CU School of Medicine faculty members for their work reaching underserved communities through the PMCC’s eConsult program. Funding for the eConsult program was also supported by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.).

The funds will help the program continue to support rural primary care providers with clinical support tools that allow them to meet their community's health needs and improve workforce development across the state.

“One of the things that (the CU Anschutz campus) does well is understanding that you are stewards of the community you reside in,” Crow said. “You also take your responsibility as a neighbor very seriously, so this funding will further help your efforts in that regard. I’m grateful for your work and leadership.”

Meeting rural Colorado’s health care needs

The eConsult program has facilitated more than 20,000 adult consultations since its launch in 2018 and has become a valuable resource for connecting patients from every corner of Colorado to physicians spanning more than 27 specialties based on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.  

“As we are all aware, specialty care access is a significant issue in numerous underserved areas, which can result in patients and their families not receiving the care that they need, when they need it, without long waits and/or traveling long distances,” said John F. "Fred" Thomas, PhD, professor of pediatrics and epidemiology PMCC executive director. 

“The PMCC's eConsult effort has already shown great promise to reduce these wait times, increase access to broad range of specialty care and to do so at a reduced cost to payers — both Medicaid and commercial plans,” he continued.

In 2021, the eConsult program expanded to include federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) through an external eConsult platform, which garnered partnerships with health systems throughout Colorado. FQHCs are often seen as the backbone of the nation’s health care safety net and support care for millions of Americans.

Programs like PMCC’s eConsult bolster FQHCs’ efforts by providing access to specialty care, which can otherwise be a challenge to obtain.

“Our program improves communication and collaboration between primary care providers and specialists, reduces the potential for fragmented care, promotes enhanced coordination, and ultimately improves access to care and lowers costs for both the patient and the system as a whole,” Thomas said.

Opportunities for students

As telemedicine efforts continue to grow across the country, the eConsult program provides an important teaching resource, too.

“This provides medical, nursing, and public health students with an opportunity relative to the idea that triaging is deciding what care needs to be completed at an academic medical center what can be done in partnership with a primary care partner in the community,” Thomas said. “This is relevant training so that trainees can see who they might be able to partner with and what tools are available to help them do that.”

During his visit, Crow got his own learning experience with a mock eConsult visit. Dave Saxon, MD, professor of medicine and PMCC medical director, showed the congressman how a primary care provider might connect with an endocrinologist to determine whether a thyroid lump might require a biopsy.

Dean John Reilly poses with Rep. Jason Crow

Dave Saxon, MD, professor of medicine, shows Rep. Jason Crow what it would be like if he underwent an eConsult. 

“This model works best when an individual has a good relationship with their primary care provider in their community,” Saxon told Crow. “The idea that a local doctor can send a note to a specialist and get an answer can also cut down on stress for the patient.”

Most eConsults are answered within two to three business days, Saxon said, and new PMCC data shows that eConsults have saved rural patients 5,491 hours in travel time, 310,858 miles of in-state travel distance, and more than $55,000 in gas expenses.  

Recognition for Dean Reilly

Concluding his visit, Crow presented John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, who retires as dean of the CU School of Medicine July 1, with remarks read into the Congressional Record earlier this month.

“For nearly a decade, Dr. Reilly served as the Dean of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for health affairs at CU Anschutz, where he led the charge in establishing Aurora and Colorado as national leaders in health care and biomedical research,” the official remarks state.

JC DR congressional record 6.21

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, dean of the CU School of Medicine, left, poses for a photo with Rep. Jason Crow, who presented him a copy of remarks entered into the Congressional Record June 13. 

Crow highlighted Reilly’s success in elevating CU Anschutz to the top tier of academic medical centers in the nation, training more physicians, and reaching more patients across the state.

“During Dean Reilly’s tenure, medical school curriculum and clinical training settings were updated to better prepare medical students for productive and fulfilling careers, medical research for the school of medicine grew by 67%, and CU Medicine faculty cared for more Coloradans than any other medical group—serving 727,000 people through 4.2 million patient visits in 2023,” Crow said in his remarks.

The roundtable was planned in partnership with the CU System’s Office of Federal Relations.

Featured Experts
Staff Mention

Fred Thomas, PhD

Staff Mention

Dave Saxon, MD