Telemedicine program trains doctors to fight the rural opioid crisis
Dr. Jennifer Allen has far too often seen how the devastating effects of opioid addiction can take a toll on a community. Whether it’s in her primary practice in Quincy, Illinois, or her Friday clinic 30 minutes away in Hannibal, Missouri, patterns tend to emerge when it comes to opioids.
“I've seen it breaking up families,” Allen said. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘I've lost my family. I've lost my wife, my children because of my drug problem. My wife left me and said she wasn’t going to put up with this. I need help.’”
The reality of working as just one of a handful of physicians in small towns dealing with so much addiction can be overwhelming. Comparing treatment notes in relatively isolated areas simply isn’t an option for Allen as it might be for a doctor in a large, metropolitan area.
Thankfully for Allen, the University of Missouri School of Medicine has recognized the problem and is doing something about it.
Show-Me ECHO — which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes — is an MU Health Care program that allows specialists to train primary care physicians statewide to identify and treat chronic conditions using videoconferencing. An Opioid Use Disorder Show-Me ECHO – which began on Sept. 8 – provides participants with opioid treatment techniques and best practices from medical, pharmacological and psychological professionals.
“In the world of addiction medicine, there are a lot of us who are out here by ourselves,” said Dr. Joseph Toney, a family medicine doctor in Piedmont, Missouri, a town of about 2,000 in Southeast Missouri. “It is nice to have a community and feel like you are not out there in the wind. … If you have one or two people that can answer your phone calls, it is just nice to get a variety of perspectives. That’s what I am trying to gain from the ECHO.”
“Sometimes I feel like I'm in Alaska, four hours from town, even though I'm in Hannibal,” Allen said of the Northeast Missouri town, population 17,000. “Yes, there are other docs here, but if you don’t know each other, it's harder to reach out.”
Rachel Mutrux, MU Health Care’s senior program director of telehealth, set a goal of 20 attendees for each Opioid Use Disorder ECHO; five sessions in, the average is 24.
Learn more about the fight against the rural opioid epidemic and the role of the ECHO program here.