Using the project ECHO™ model to teach mental health topics in rural Guatemala: An implementation science-guided evaluation

Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2023 Dec;69(8):2031-2041. doi: 10.1177/00207640231188038. Epub 2023 Jul 21.


Background: Mental health (MH) disorders are major causes of disability in Guatemala. Unfortunately, limited academic training and funding resources make MH care inaccessible to most people in rural Guatemala. These disparities leave many indigenous populations without care. Project ECHO™ is an educational model used globally to deliver virtual training for providers in rural/ underserved communities. The aim of this project was to implement and evaluate a Project ECHO™ program bridging MH training gaps for providers who serve rural communities in Guatemala.

Methods: The Project ECHO™ curriculum was implemented through a partnership between educational and nonprofit institutions in Guatemala City and the United States. Participants were primary care physicians and nurses working in rural Guatemala as well as medical/nursing/psychology students. Evaluation of its implementation was guided by a RE-AIM framework. Reach, effectiveness, adoption, fidelity, sustainability, acceptability, feasibility, and appropriateness were evaluated using a mixed-methods approach, using a pre-post survey and semi-structured focus groups.

Results: Forty unique participants attended the five sessions. Attitudes about mental health did not change quantitatively but self-efficacy improved in four of five modules. High quality fidelity scores were noted in two of five sessions. Sustainability scores across multiple domains were highly rated. Scores on instruments measuring acceptability, feasibility, and appropriateness were high. Focus groups showed two main themes: the curriculum filled a gap in education and further adaptation of the model might help improve the experience.

Conclusion: Implementation of the Project ECHO™ educational model appeared to have good reach/adoption, showed improvements in self-efficacy, illuminated facilitators and barriers to sustainability, and was felt to be acceptable, feasible, and appropriate. Qualitative analysis supported these conclusions. Future directions would include ongoing evaluation and monitoring of further Project ECHO™ curricular experiences through this partnership and adaptation of this project to other learners and settings in Latin America.

Keywords: Latin America; Virtual; alcohol; depression; indigenous; medical education; nurse; primary care; stress; women’s mental health.

MeSH terms

  • Guatemala
  • Humans
  • Implementation Science
  • Mental Health*
  • Rural Population*
  • Students