new rural health project

Solutions to health care challenges in rural Texas communities

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and the Health Science Center finalize terms for new rural health project
March 11, 2019

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) and the Texas A&M University Health Science Center have finalized the agreement for a new joint project that will research and identify innovative care delivery strategies to improve rural health care across the state.

Among the projects being considered is one that will explore using autonomous vehicles, drones and tele-enabled ambulance services to address distance and access challenges in rural communities.

“Technology has the potential to solve some of the most pressing rural health care issues in Texas,” said Dan McCoy, MD, president of BCBSTX. “This collaboration with the Texas A&M Health Science Center is a bold step toward taking innovative research and thinking out of the laboratory and using it to address real health care challenges facing rural and underserved communities in Texas, and perhaps across the United States.”

BCBSTX’s commitment of $10 million to Health Science Center—announced at a press conference at Texas A&M University in November—is part of the company’s Affordability Cures endeavor aimed at accelerating efforts to reduce health care costs and improve outcomes, including by addressing health disparities and social determinants of health.

“As a land-grand institution, Texas A&M has a mission to serve rural Texans. This region of our state is vital to our economic success,” said Carrie L. Byington, MD, vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System, senior vice president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Through innovative research and forward-thinking care delivery strategies resulting from this commitment, we will ensure rural Texas has a place in the 21st century and beyond.”

The initial projects under consideration will evaluate past issues, present struggles and future solutions to improve the quality of rural health care. Those projects include:

  • Tackling Distance: Post Closure Access and Innovative Community Care: Researchers will use community engagement to assess health care needs of vulnerable communities and design innovative interventions that improve local access to vital health services. The program will use added trained emergency medical technicians, community health workers and telemedicine to support continuing local providers and pre-need transfer agreements. The Health Science Center will further explore innovative transportation systems such as autonomous vehicles, drones and tele-enabled ambulances as potential solutions to overcome difficulties plaguing rural areas.
  • What Happens to Population Health after Hospital Closure: Researchers will analyze claims data to evaluate the costs of common conditions before and after hospital closures, including evaluating mortality rates in communities that have closed hospitals.
  • Using Collaboration to Preserve Right-Sized Access: This project’s goal is to create a care network that will allow a group of communities in northwestern Texas to maintain local access to care without becoming part of a larger health system.
  • Empowering Communities for Chronic Disease Management: This project will evaluate a diabetes care management program through the Healthy South Texas initiative that will empower individuals to be meaningful partners in the management of their diabetes through technology-based solutions.

To learn more about the state of rural health care in Texas, McCoy and Byington will take part in a panel discussion–Plugging into Rural Healthcare Solutions–March 12 at the South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festivals. The panel discussion will center on the health challenges facing rural communities as well as the opportunities that seemingly disparate industries have to converge and create practical, forward-thinking solutions.

Adapted from a press release from BCBSTX. 

— Christina Sumners

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