Blues plan, Texas A&M look at IT use to offer rural care

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and the Texas A&M Health Science Center are studying how to use IT to find innovative ways to boost access to care in the state.

BCBSTX is backing the Texas A&M Health Science Center with $10 million, and projects slated for exploration include autonomous vehicles, drones and tele-enabled ambulance services to address distance and access challenges in rural communities.

A report released last year by the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute and the Episcopal Health Foundation detailed significant care needs in the state.

• 35 counties have no physician.

• 80 counties have five or fewer physicians.

• 58 Texas counties have no general surgeon.

• 147 Texas counties have no obstetrician/gynecologist.

• 185 Texas counties have no psychiatrist.

“Rural healthcare needs moonshots,” says Steven Brown, MD, associate vice president of clinical strategy at Texas A&M Health Science Center. “That’s what we’re doing with this collaborative project between two entities with similar missions. By combining our expertise, we can create actionable insights to improve healthcare access, quality and delivery across the state, nation and world.”

Technology has the potential to solve some of the most pressing rural healthcare issues in Texas, says Blues President Dan McCoy, MD. He calls the collaboration, “a bold step towards taking innovative research and thinking out of the laboratory and using it to address real healthcare challenges facing rural and underserved communities in Texas.” He says the discoveries may even have an impact on other parts of the U.S.

BCBSTX’s financial backing of the Science Center is part of the company’s Affordability Cures initiative, which aims to provide value-based care in the state, particularly through addressing health disparities and social determinants of health.

Carrie Byington, MD, vice president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, anticipates “innovative research and forward-thinking care delivery strategies” coming out of the partnership.

According to BCBSTX, the researchers will kick off the project by:

• Assessing rural healthcare transportation needs for the most vulnerable populations in the state.

• Analyzing claims data to evaluate the costs of common conditions before and after hospital closures, including evaluating mortality rates in communities that have closed hospitals.

• Helping small communities in northwest Texas to maintain local access to care without becoming part of a larger health system.

• Evaluating a diabetes care management program through the Healthy South Texas initiative to empower individuals to “be meaningful partners” in managing their diabetes, using technology-based solutions.

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