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Akanksha Dadlani, College of Medicine student

Student Researchers Look into Integrated Primary and Mental Health Care

There’s no end to the directions that students take in research projects, as anyone who visited Northeast Ohio Medical University’s 2019 Poster Day can attest. While many of the students (more than 90 this year) took on projects through the Summer Research Fellowship, second-year College of Medicine student Akanksha Dadlani found her own path beginning the last academic year, then was joined in her summer work by another second-year College of Medicine student, Scott Schmuki.

Their task? To review the demographic data on participants and those participants’ evaluations of the Integrated Care at NEOMED (IC@N) Project Echo program at the University, which launched in January 2018. The interprofessional virtual learning community is designed to help clinicians deliver mental health care that is integrated into their primary care practices. Because not all clinicians have specialized training in mental health care, IC@N provides instruction and support that enhances their capacity to deliver such care.

IC@N is based on the Project ECHO model for distance learning and consultation developed at the University of New Mexico – a model that  has been replicated in communities around the globe to increase the capacity of clinicians to address a variety of specialized health conditions in their home communities. The IC@N ECHO network creates an opportunity for physicians and other health care providers to learn collaboratively and to share clinical experience and wisdom.

“I think it is an incredible resource to have psychiatrists, primary care physicians, psychologists and pharmacists available for discussion of cases and presentation of topics,” says Pedro Ballester, M.D., a family physician from Warren, Ohio, who participates in  IC@N , as well as two other ECHO programs at NEOMED. “It should be a mandatory resource or class for senior medical students and primary care residents. Where else could all of these professionals get together to discuss a real-life case?”

Evaluating the program

Dadlani took the lead on the project to evaluate IC@N. She explored two questions. First, are core values of Project ECHO being well executed? Second, what changes can be made to better execute these core values? The College of Medicine student examined didactic topics, attendee demographics and attendee ratings of information delivery.

Dadlani earned a Master of Public Health degree from NEOMED, and she drew on that training to make conclusions about what works and what could be improved in the IC@N ECHO program. She suggested improvements to the program, such as making more rural health care providers aware of the IC@N program; including more topics on preventive medicine and community health; and increasing the program’s focus on topics that generate the highest attendance rates.

Finally, Dadlani recommended a greater emphasis on student engagement.

Nichole Ammon, who leads the IC@N ECHO program, said, “When Akanksha came back with this poster in July, we were astounded at what she pulled together. Akanksha brought a set of complementary skills and a fresh set of eyes to this program, helping our team to do valuable program evaluation. We were especially excited to see that 80% of attendees believe that participation in Project ECHO reduced their professional isolation.”

Schmuki and Dadlani aren’t finished yet. They plan to keep working over the 2019-20 academic year and put together another poster presentation next year.

Ammon said, “We are excited to implement recommendations and re-examine these questions –maybe more – with Akanksha and Scott, as their schedules allow.”