Virtually Forgotten: Rural West Texas Telehealth Challenges and Opportunities

The Permian Basin of West Texas faces significant healthcare delivery challenges such as an expansive area consisting of 17 counties encompassing 75,000 square miles with a total population nearing one million people. This arid desert-like region spans a wide geography, economically dominated by one major industry, with small population centers surrounding two urban cities of about 170,000 each, thereby creating unique strains on the healthcare system. The challenges vary widely from expansive geography requiring long distance travel, a large percentage of low socioeconomic status with limited resources, and limited facilities. Texas leads the nation in rural hospital closures, many of which are critical access facilities with tight financial margins, the citizens and the healthcare providers are aging (provider attrition, technology use) coupled with limitations to recruiting primary care and subspecialty providers, and even some remaining frontier areas lacking broadband access. This presentation shares our early experiences and vision for addressing these healthcare disparities, while contemplating a literature review of others rural telehealth experiences and recommendations. Telehealth offers opportunity in revitalizing the rural healthcare system, potentially overcoming many of the challenges to the often forgotten needs of rural residents.

Presented by: Timothy J. Benton, M.D., FAAFP – Regional Dean, TTUHSC Permian Basin