Empowering GPs to manage alcohol and other drugs issues through Project ECHO peer learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the use of alcohol and other substances and delivery of treatment services across Australia, and has reinforced the key role primary care, and particularly general practice, plays in keeping people well in the community.

General practitioners often see the impact of alcohol and drug use on people’s wellbeing and are well placed to offer support. Just like other health problems, substance use issues can be treated, with treatment generally more effective if initiated early.

In our commitment to building confidence and capability of primary care practitioners to support people experiencing alcohol and other drug (AOD) issues, we are establishing WA’s first Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes).

Drawing on local expertise and building a statewide AOD community of practice for primary care, Project ECHO will help GPs and other health professionals to enhance their knowledge and skills and support practical approaches to treatment within the local health context.

WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) Strategy & Policy Manager, Melanie Chatfield, said the Project ECHO model is a great way to engage clinicians with peer-to-peer learning opportunities and connect GPs from across Western Australia.

“Project ECHO is an evidence-based approach to inter-professional education that offers GPs the chance to discuss and unpack real cases with their colleagues and a panel of experienced health practitioners,” she said.

“The idea is to encourage the sharing of clinical expertise and all sessions are hosted virtually which means that practitioners in regional and remote locations can equally participate, contributing their wisdom and gaining support to address challenges.”

WAPHA has been working collectively with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Next Step Drug and Alcohol Services and Edith Cowan University to establish WA’s first Project ECHO focused on the topic of AOD.

“Working collaboratively with other organisations to develop capacity and capability in the sector is the best way for us to make a real difference,” Melanie said.

The initiative builds on the work of the WAPHA funded Treating Alcohol and Other Drugs in Primary Care Program, delivered by ECU, the Drug and Alcohol Clinical Advisory Service, delivered by the Mental Health Commission, and national GP AOD education and training programs delivered by the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and RACGP.

Dr Richard O’Regan, Director of Next Step Drug and Alcohol Services, has been involved in a national Project ECHO network, and sees the value for WA clinicians.

“Project ECHO provides mentoring to practitioners with an interest in honing their AOD skills to achieve better outcomes for patients. Additionally, specialists involved also obtain a better understanding of the specific needs of GPs in providing care to AOD patients in the setting of general practice,” Richard said.

Registration of interest to participate in the WA Project ECHO – AOD will be open in November with sessions anticipated to commence in February 2022. It is expected that the program will be run monthly.

A strategy to guide WAPHA’s commissioning and general practice engagement activities for alcohol and other drugs is being finalised which articulates priorities and provides the context in which several projects are being initiated.

WAPHA’s work in building confidence and capability of primary care practitioners to support people experiencing alcohol and other drug issues also includes the development of a new quality improvement program and the review and launch of updated HealthPathways.

Open Expressions of Interest – Project ECHO Steering Committee

WAPHA is seeking expressions of interest to guide the development and implementation of WA’s first Project ECHO, focused on alcohol and drug use within a primary care setting.

We are calling for expressions of interest from GPs and other health professionals to guide the development and implementation of WA’s first Project ECHO focused on improving treatment and support for people impacted by alcohol and other drug use within a primary care setting.

The Steering Committee will provide leadership, oversight and direction; monitor progress; progress relevant actions and contribute to project evaluation. The Committee will inform and participate in an initial AOD ECHO series, to be delivered between February-July 2022, and promote ECHO sessions and associated activities.

We are seeking applications from:

  • General Practitioners (with advanced experience and/or an AOD speciality as well as early career practitioners with a special interest in AOD)
  • Aboriginal Health Practitioners
  • Pharmacists
  • Nurses
  • Other Allied Health professionals and
  • Consumers who use AOD services

Who are committed to:

  • Continuous quality improvement
  • Evidence based practice
  • Maintaining fidelity of the Project ECHO model – “all teach all learn”
  • Operating within their scope of practice
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Development and expansion of the primary care workforce
  • Reducing stigma and discrimination and improving health and wellbeing outcomes for people impacted by alcohol and other drug use

If this sounds like you then please submit your expression of interest by COB Friday 5 November.