- Oklahoma lawmakers are mulling a telemedicine pilot program aimed at training rural healthcare providers to treat patients living with Alzheimer’s.
SB 437 would, if approved, create a Project ECHO platform. Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) uses a hub-and-spoke model to connect rural and remote practitioners with specialists to discuss cases that would otherwise be sent to large — and distant — health systems.
Under the bill, introduced by State Sen. Adam Pugh, the program would enable one neurologist identified by state health officials to teach rural primary care providers how to identify and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. The bill also states that the neurologist would not be compensated for running the virtual care network.
Roughly 64,000 Oklahomans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and that number is expected to grow to 76,000 by 2025.
The bill’s supporters say the telehealth platform would help improve care management for Oklahomans who live in rural parts of the state and don’t have easy access to care providers. It would also help PCPs in rural communities to care for more of their patients, rather than being forced to refer them to distant specialists.
The bill is supported by the Oklahoma branch of the Alzheimer’s Association, which says Oklahomans face a six- to-nine-month wait to see a neurologist in person. But the group also wants to see more neurologists in the state, and is pushing for changes in state law that would incentivize specialists by paying for some of their student loans.
If established, the program would be the second in the state. The Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences has a Project ECHO platform in place for education and training on issues like addiction and hepatitis C. Last year the university added Alzheimer’s education to that platform.