ATTC Messenger Feature Article April 2023
Free Telementoring Mentoring Program Aims to Bring Research-Based Practices and Skills Related to Health Care Professionals Working with People who Use Alcohol
By Cassie L. Boness, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor Center on Alcohol, Substance use, And Addictions, University of New Mexico
The Alcohol Use and Mental Health Project ECHO is a no-cost virtual program for health care professionals who are looking for up-to-date and research-based information on working with people who use alcohol.
Heavy alcohol use has a wide-reaching impact on society and individual wellbeing. The state of New Mexico has the highest rate of alcohol-related mortality in the nation (Esser et al., 2022). Yet, health care professionals often lack the training and expertise to work effectively with patients who use alcohol across the prevention-to-treatment spectrum (e.g., Dimoff et al., 2017; National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2012).
In response to the public health impact of heavy alcohol use, particularly in New Mexico, the University of New Mexico launched the Alcohol Use and Mental Health Project Extensive for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) in July of 2022. Project ECHO is a collaborative model of medical education and care management that revolutionizes medical education by helping clinicians provide expert-level care to patients wherever they live, and exponentially increases workforce capacity to provide best-practice specialty care, and reduce health disparities. All sessions are conducted virtually, with accessibility and dissemination of evidence-based knowledge and practices at their core. Mutual learning is crucial in the ECHO model: all participants are viewed as experts contributing knowledge leading to better patient care and health system improvement, which helps to break down hierarchies that can exist among professionals and even community members. The ECHO model fosters peer-to-peer mentoring and knowledge networks, creating an “all-teach, all-learn” environment. Through this innovative approach, local providers can enhance their knowledge and competence in alcohol use and mental health with peers and mentors in a community of practice.
Co-Medical Directors Dr. Cassandra Bones (clinical psychologist), Dr. Sara Doorley (internal and addiction medicine physician), and Dr. Jasen Christensen (addiction psychiatrist) lead the Alcohol Use and Mental Health Project ECHO. Through twice-monthly Zoom sessions, participants are provided with up-to-date and research-based knowledge and skills on best practices in treating alcohol use, addiction, and co-occurring conditions to health care professionals across the world. Each session includes a didactic and case-based learning opportunity. Previous sessions have focused on topics such as stigma, screening and diagnosis, medications for alcohol use disorder, alcohol-associated liver disease, and brief interventions. Participants can earn free continuing education credits for participating.
Although still in its first year, the program shows promise for improving care, including increased screening for heavy alcohol use and implementation of evidence-based treatments, including behavioral and pharmacological treatments. As of January 2023, the Alcohol Use and Mental Health ECHO has hosted 11 sessions with 116-382 participants per session (Mean=197, SD=90.2). Of the 810 participants who completed a post-session survey, 86% agreed they would apply knowledge from the session, 83% agreed they were able to collaborate better with other teams as a result of the session, and 75% reported they will further use what was learned in the session.
Through the revolutionary and accessible Project ECHO model, the Alcohol Use and Mental Health Hub Team is working to bring knowledge and skills to health care professionals regardless of their training backgrounds or practice locations. By increasing knowledge and skills in the treatment of alcohol use, addiction, and co-occurring conditions, the Hub Team hopes to serve as one small piece of reducing the overall burden of alcohol use in our society. Health care professionals, allied professionals, and community members from anywhere in the world who are looking to increase their knowledge on alcohol use and mental health are welcome to join any session(s). Participants are encouraged to register ahead of time.
About the Author
Dr. Cassie L. Boness is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Research Assistant Professor at the Center on Alcohol, Substance use, And Addictions at the University of New Mexico. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Missouri in 2021. Connect with her on Twitter @Cassie_Boness or via email at [email protected].
Dimoff, J. D., Sayette, M. A., & Norcross, J. C. (2017). Addiction training in clinical psychology: Are we keeping up with the rising epidemic?. American Psychologist, 72(7), 689.
Esser, M. B., Leung, G., Sherk, A., Bohm, M. K., Liu, Y., Lu, H., & Naimi, T. S. (2022). Estimated deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use among US adults aged 20 to 64 years, 2015 to 2019. JAMA Network Open, 5(11), e2239485-e2239485.
National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (2012). Addiction medicine: closing the gap between science and practice. https://drugfree.org/reports/addiction-medicine-closing-the-gap-between-science-and-practice/