New Help on the way for Patients with Autism

Feb 25, 2015

Photo credit: The University of Missouri

A new project is underway to help better prepare physicians who work with patients with Autism. The ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) Autism project plans to deliver specialized training to Missouri physicians and primary caretakers who work with patients with Autism here in Missouri. MU’s Thompson Center for Autism created the program with the help of the Missouri Telehealth Network. 

Kristin Sohl is the Medical Director at the Thompson Center. Sohl led the efforts to bring the program to Missouri, and says it’s imperative that the program consists of the most knowledgeable specialists in a variety of areas related to Autism training.

“Our team is trying to pull together the best minds that we have resources for to share information and improve the knowledge base for primary care providers so that they have some of the tools we have,” Sohl said. “That, in turn, improves outcomes for kids with Autism.”

Sohl and her colleagues put together a team of experts to train physicians all over the state. The team consists of a psychologist, a child psychiatrist, a dietician, and a parent educator.

The team will train physicians through conferencing – something that isn’t common in the medical field – which will allow them to speak to people all over the state at the same time. Missouri Telehealth Network is providing the necessary software for the conferences to take place. Telehealth Senior Program Director Rachel Mutrux says she hopes that the technology ECHO uses will take some of the burden off of families with children with Autism.

“The hope is that the parents and the families of children that are effected by Autism will have a lot more comfort and recourses in their own community so they don’t always have to travel for their care and so that they can get care earlier,” Mutrux said.

State Representative Kip Kendrick helped push project ECHO through the state legislature last year, and it was ultimately approved. Kendrick says that rural Missourians will benefit most from the program.

“So many rural Missourians lack access to specialty care. So many have to drive many hours – wait an hour in a hospital or in a doctor’s office - just to see a specialist for maybe fifteen to twenty minutes. Project ECHO will train up local physicians on some of that specialty care.”

While ECHO was approved by the legislature, the appropriations Kendrick and his colleagues were pushing for were withheld. This year, he’s working to fix that.

“This year we’re trying to make sure that it gets back into the budget so we can properly fund project ECHO and expand it across the state of Missouri,” Kendrick said.

Sohl says she’s excited to be able to share the information the Thompson Center has with physicians around the state.

“There are small shifts we do - related to behavior change - that can make a major difference for a family. If we sucked up all that knowledge, and kept it to ourselves, then primary care providers don’t benefit from that.”

ECHO’s first training session is set for Wednesday, March 4th. The team will hold sessions on the first and third Wednesday of every month.