The University of New Mexico School of Medicine is helping make medical professionals in the state, and all around the country, more knowledgeable with diagnosing and effectively treating osteoporosis through a learning program for medical professionals called Bone Health TeleECHO.

According to the UNM Bone Health website, there are available treatments for osteoporosis that can help prolong life. Only about 20 percent of patients with hip fractures are treated to help prevent the risk of future fractures.

Dr. Lewiecki leads the Bone Health TeleECHO Project. His specialty is osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease.



“Osteoporosis is a major public health problem. There are about 2 million broken bones every year in the U.S. due to osteoporotic fractures,” Lewiecki said. “And most of the people who have osteoporosis are not being diagnosed with it, even though we have excellent diagnostic tests, and most of the people are not being treated.”

This disparity of patients being underdiagnosed and given improper treatment has created a large osteoporosis treatment gap, he said. Lewiecki’s goal is to reduce this treatment gap and to increase physicians knowledge surrounding osteoporosis.

Bone Health TeleECHO has been operating for three years now. Lewiecki and his team, composed of Dr. Matt Bouchonville and Dr. David Chafey, hold video conferences every Tuesday starting at noon and have interactive case-based learning on osteoporosis. Medical professionals from throughout the country, and sometimes even from abroad, call in to the video conferences.

“We present cases to each other. These are real cases that people see, and we present the cases anonymously so it’s all confidential,” Lewiecki said. “We use that information as a basis when discussing problems about bone disease, and we all learn from each other.”

A wide range of medical professionals, from medical experts to nurses and physical therapists, are able to participate in the Bone Health TeleECHO clinics and learn more about bone diseases. Lewiecki said this creates a collective pool of knowledge that generates more confidence among medical professionals in treating bone diseases like osteoporosis.

The concept of the ECHO learning scheme was conceived by gastroenterologist Dr. Sanjeev Arora, who said he was frustrated about the poor care of chronic hepatitis C in rural New Mexico. He said good treatments that were available for hepatitis C were not being used for patients due to their distance from the UNM Hospital and lack of financial affordability.

Arora’s idea was to use video conferencing to connect with healthcare professionals around New Mexico and help them become more knowledgeable in treating hepatitis C. From this, Project ECHO was born.

“I figured that osteoporosis was a lot like hepatitis C in the sense that there was a large treatment gap for a common disease that has good treatments that just weren’t being used,” Lewiecki said. “What we want to have ultimately is a worldwide network of many ECHO hubs linking up with many people, and these can be in convenient time zones and the right language for the people who want to be learning.”

A self-efficacy analysis was conducted by Lewiecki and his colleagues to see if the self-confidence of managing different aspects of osteoporosis had improved in the participants of the Bone Health TeleECHO clinics.

The results were published in an article titled “Leveraging Scarce Resources With Bone Health TeleECHO to Improve the Care of Osteoporosis” in the Journal of the Endocrine Society in December 2017. The results of this study showed that overall, the knowledge and self-confidence of participants had improved in diagnosing and treating osteoporosis.

“What we want to do is have many more of these pop up in other states and other countries, so that’s what I’m working on,” Lewicki said.

Isaiah Garcia is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.