Communities around the globe face the challenge of delivering high-quality healthcare while managing skyrocketing healthcare expenses. The Cyrus Tang Foundation recently awarded a three-year, $900,000 grant to the University of Chicago Medicine’s Extension for Community Health Outcomes (ECHO-Chicago) and the Tongji University School of Medicine (TUSM) in Shanghai. These two urban academic medical centers will collaborate to launch the ECHO program in China with the goal of improving health outcomes there.
The Cyrus Tang Foundation supports programs in China and the US that impact education, healthcare, and community development, with a focus on tackling tough problems and building a more caring society. Founder Cyrus Tang wrote, “I believe success in life is not based in assets gained or knowledge acquired. It is how we make use of what we have to contribute to society.”
Originating at the University of New Mexico, the ECHO model is aimed at expanding and improving primary care at the community level, thereby reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and related healthcare costs. ECHO works by bringing together experts from academic medical centers to offer training to community-based health care providers. Training focuses on building providers’ practical knowledge and skills, while paying close attention to providers’ needs and experience. ECHO creates training sessions around the principle “all teach, all learn, all support” and has produced one of a very few provider training models proven to both affect practices and improve patient outcomes.
ECHO-Chicago was established in 2010 and was the first ECHO program to operate in an urban environment. A local healthcare provider who attended trainings praised the model, noting “All Teach, All Learn means that there’s a recognition that everybody who comes to the table has something to offer and something to learn. In ECHO, providers share their experience. They’re not just there to absorb everyone else’s. They’re there to share their strengths, skills, weaknesses so that the collective group moves forward.”
ECHO-Chicago has trained more than 6,000 primary care providers and professionals since its founding. In 2016, the Chicago program was designated as an ECHO Superhub, providing training and mentorship to organizations worldwide and establishing ECHO centers internationally. In September 2023, the Inaugural ECHO Excellence Awards recognized ECHO-Chicago, writing “The University of Chicago showed that ECHO can work in urban neighborhoods that have limited access to healthcare. Daniel Johnson, a pediatrician there, brought together federally qualified health centers on the South Side of Chicago to do ECHO. This is a predominantly low-income, minority neighborhood with poor access to health care. Previously, we had thought about ECHO for rural areas only because they lacked access to specialists, but Daniel and his team showed that ECHO can also benefit people in urban areas.”
Today there are nearly 1,100 ECHO hubs across 75 countries, though none in China. This award allows ECHO-Chicago to work with TUSM to lay the groundwork for spreading the ECHO model across China.
TUSM is among the top 10 percent of medical colleges in China, with a system of affiliated hospitals and community health centers across Shanghai. Daniel Johnson, MD, professor of pediatrics at UChicago Medicine and founder and director of ECHO-Chicago, saw potential in the partnership, based on TUSM’s long experience in urban health care, saying “Shanghai’s primary care system, like that in Chicago, can meet the health needs of a wider population of people by applying the ECHO-Chicago training model to uptrain community-based clinicians to take care of the expanding needs of their patients.”
Meetings at TUSM in June and July 2023 kicked off the partnership with ECHO-Chicago. TUSM Dean and Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Jialin C. Zheng, MD, found that TUSM had a great deal of synergy with UChicago Medicine, noting “TUSM has worked to promote family medicine and primary care in Shanghai for over 14 years. TUSM is the first academic institution in China to establish medical school-affiliated community health centers. ECHO-Chicago is well-experienced in helping organizations around the world to design and implement projects to meet local needs, especially in primary care.” Dr. Johnson was also enthusiastic about the first series of meetings, adding “It is an honor to be working with Chicago’s sister city of Shanghai, to launch the first Project ECHO in China. Our two institutions have much in common, including a deep commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of those living in our cities and elsewhere.”