More than a half-dozen experts on various aspects of childhood obesity gathered in view of a webcam in Omaha as Dr. Melinda Chen, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, detailed the differences between prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes in kids and how to treat them.

On the other end of the audio and video connection were doctors and nurses at approximately 20 sites across Omaha and in Lincoln, Council Bluffs, Grand Island, Fremont and Imperial. Participants at several sites chimed in with questions and suggestions.

A sort of cross between a webinar and grand rounds, Children’s new Project ECHO — ECHO stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes — uses a collaborative “tele-mentoring” model as a way to share the expertise of Children’s specialists and participating national experts with health care providers across the state and, in return, to collaborate with and learn from those providers.

The project is funded by a one-year, $50,000 grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics Division of Innovation. The Children’s project was one of two selected for funding from among two dozen applicants nationwide. The second session was held last week.

The project, which includes 15 sessions held every other week through mid-May, focuses on issues related to childhood obesity.

“You have better care at the right time, with their primary care physicians who know them best,” Lester said.

Indeed, Project ECHO was created by a liver expert in New Mexico frustrated by the national outbreak of hepatitis C. His aim, Lester said, was to train community-level experts to provide the same degree of care to patients as they would get if they saw a specialist. The model since has been used in other adult illnesses.

“The exciting thing is ECHO can be used for any health topic imaginable,” Lester said. “We’re launching with obesity, but we’ll be expanding to many child health topics, depending on the needs of the communities across the state.”

One future option, she said, may be epilepsy, given the region’s shortage of child neurologists. Interest also has been expressed in sessions on autism and on child maltreatment and abuse, as well as injury prevention.

Dr. Madeleine MacDonald of Pediatric Partners in Fremont said she welcomes the information participants are getting about childhood obesity.

Community resources to address the problem are scarce outside the Omaha area, she said. She hopes to learn some of the strategies others have been successful with in helping patients and their families make lasting changes, among other things.

“It’s all about the kids for us,” she said. “This is a great step, and it’s going to be really great to have people from throughout the state share their resources.”

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