The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health celebrated National Rural Health Week (Nov. 15-21) with an educational event to demonstrate to health professionals and the community the importance of continuing efforts to support rural health. Interprofessional rural health experts presented important information regarding the challenges, progress and current projects in rural health.
According to the most-recent U.S. census, more than 3.8 million Texans are rural residents, which means Texas has the highest rural population in the country. Conversely, Texas also has the second-highest urban population of more than 21 million people. This presents Texas with a unique set of challenges pertaining to both the high rural population and high urban population and the disparity between them. Often, health care institutions like TTUHSC provide key resources to keep rural populations health through innovation.
Telemedicine, for instance, gives the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health the ability to deliver health care remotely to the rural residents who need it. The cutting-edge technology included on the TTUHSC telemedicine unit features full-motion, high-definition video conferencing equipment that allows physicians to interact with patients in a secure digital environment, without either of them having to travel long distances. Successfully implementing telemedicine is one important way the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health carries out its mission.
Another innovation offered by the institute is the Area Health Education Center program, which works to cultivate kids’ interest in health care careers, particularly practicing in rural environments. To ensure there are enough rural health care providers, the program educates rural young people, who are considerably more likely to pursue a career in rural health care than individuals from urban areas, about the variety of potential health care careers. In this way, the Area Health Education Center focuses on developing health care providers for the future.
These programs help to address what the institute says is the primary challenge affecting the health of rural populations: distance. In fact, according to the National Rural Health Association, only about 10 percent of American physicians practice in rural areas, meaning many rural residents must travel considerable distances for their health care needs. The information fair worked to raise awareness about these and other efforts to improve rural health.
“We worked to honor and promote our rural communities as we addressed accessibility issues, lack of health care providers and larger percentages of uninsured citizens,” said Debra Flores, Ph.D., M.A., F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health director of West Texas Area Health Education Centers and rural health programs. “We hosted Area Health Education Centers from across West Texas that displayed banners and brochures that showed the work being done in rural West Texas. We also had representatives from the TTUHSC School of Medicine, School of Nursing, Office of Interprofessional Education and Larry Combest Community Health and Wellness Center to demonstrate the interprofessional collaboration taking place in approaching rural health initiatives.”