Telehealth offering a solution to primary care doctor shortage in Texas Panhandle

For Your Health

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The entire nation is facing a physician shortage, according to projections from the American Association of Medical College. Dr. Brian Weis, the Chief Medical Officer at Northwest Texas Healthcare System, said the Texas Panhandle is no exception.

“If you look, a lot of the doctors coming out of training now, are heading to the major metroplexes. And so for a lot of these smaller regional facilities, they’re really struggling to recruit providers,” Dr. Weis said.

Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows nine out of the 26 counties in the panhandle have zero primary care doctors. When you increase that number to one primary care doctor or less, that expands to 12 counties.

Dr. Weis said telehealth is a growing solution to the problem.

“Some of our specialists, and subspecialists, provide services to those hospitals in a way that is accessible to patients in those communities, and they can stay in those communities,” Dr. Weis explained.

Dr. Shane Harper, Chief P.A. at the Texas Tech Department of Surgery said there are several ways to implement the technology into the medical field.

“Telecommunication can be something that’s over computer that’s at their desk or even now, even in their phones. For instance, telehealth could be where some insurance companies have it instead of going through your primary care physician, you can call a 1-800 number… and more or less have a facetime with someone to provide something simple, you know, cough and cold,” Dr. Harper explained.

From there, the technology has progressed to the point where specialists can see a patient for the first initial appointment, and then do all of the follow-ups via telehealth.

“If you live in Canadian, and you come and you see a specialist here, a cardiologist or whatnot…some type of follow up visits are just five-minute visits, ‘How are you doing, is your medication working?’ And really those are things that can be done as a face-to-face deal, over telehealth modality, versus coming all the way down to Amarillo, being here for five minutes, and then going all the way back to your home town,” Dr. Harper said.

The technology can also be used now for more serious injuries.

“We’ve brought it to the realm where we’ve done teletrauma, where someone is acutely injured in an outlying facility, if they’re set up with us, can go ahead and link up with us and we can see via very sophisticated FaceTime, that patient in real-time,” Dr. Harper explained.

Advancements in technology itself are not the only reason telehealth has progressed in recent years.

Dr. Weis explained, “There’s been some key changes in regulations at the federal level, that now allow for billing of these telehealth services.”

Rep. Four Price has been fighting for solutions to our rural healthcare problem for years. “I authored and passed some telemedicine legislation that broke down some significant barriers for providers to get paid by health insurance companies,” he said.

Rep. Price said the new technology brings hope to the panhandle. “Healthcare is an issue that’s always in the top two or three of what we deal with. It’s now one of the largest areas of our state’s expenditures and a very large $257 billion budget. So, I’m encouraged though, that we’ll find creative, efficient, and better ways to make healthcare more accessible.”

Looking forward, Dr. Harper said he hopes the technology can soon be implemented in ambulances, as they make a long trek with patients from surrounding communities and feed the data back to the E.R. in Amarillo before they even arrive.

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