Across the healthcare industry, we see rural communities reaping great benefits from telemedicine. We recently had a chance to sit down with Billy Philips, Executive VP of Rural and Community Health at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSS) to talk about the 2016  Rural Crossroads Conference which just took place last week in Lubbock, Texas, with a focus on telemedicine in rural parts of Texas and Louisiana and on the emerging role of Community Health Workers in using mobile technologies. Here’s what Dr. Philips had to say:

PSV: This year’s Rural Crossroads Conference was hosted by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) Can you tell us a little bit about  TTUHSC?

BP: The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center was chartered principally as the health science center to serve the Western half of Texas, the most rural part of our state.  The institute of rural and community of health conducts leading edge projects in several areas in telehealth and telemedicine.  We host the West Texas AHEC Program that focuses on community education and workforce development in health professions. We also have a large rural research component and data management mapping and reporting structure that comprise our operations and in that structure we publish The Rural Health Messenger.

PSV: Can you talk a little bit about this year’s conference? How was it different than events from prior years?

BP: Each year, we have different themes focused on rural healthcare. This year, we decided to focus  on the technologies that allow us to address some of the primary issues in healthcare transformation. We held multiple educational sessions to train health practitioners and community health workers on the use of communication and mobile devices within healthcare settings and discussed innovative ways to manage diseases like HIV & diabetes through telemedicine. We also presented awards to pioneers in telemedicine and to outstanding community health workers; those who are using innovative applications to champion their own personal practice.

PSV: What are some of the biggest obstacles you’re seeing in Texas and Louisiana as it relates to telemedicine?

BP: I believe that with every challenge lies an opportunity. Probably the biggest challenge that may surprise you is that this technology is exploding. So there is a challenge and opportunity there. We need to be careful not to overregulate innovation and be mindful that people’s health information is very sensitive. It’s also essential that healthcare workers are adequately trained to a degree of competency and they undergo continuous education in this field. We need to understand what this technology may do well and may not be good for. At TTUHSC, we have a telemedicine demonstration lab called the Frontiers of Telemedicine Lab, which is unique in the country. It’s been designed with consultation rooms and the latest technologies so we can conduct patient/ provider simulations with every piece of equipment that you would find in service in order to solve issues as they arise. Since January, we have trained 120 clinical faculty members to use the technology.  This competency-based education should lead to the creation of a standard of care in telemedicine and telehealth.

PSV: Are there any success stories you can share from the rural Texas region?

BP: We use telemedicine for behavioral health screenings among troubled youth in West Texas rural schools.  We call that the Telemedicine, Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project or TWITR.  These are young people who don’t have access to school psychologists or counselors in their rural areas. Through triage, we have identified a number of children that are considered to be dangerous, and we have been able to link them up with counselors. In the past 2 ½ years, we have identified 18 students who needed advanced services that could not be provided in their current school environment.  Some of those children were seen by a child and adolescent psychiatrist and removed from school for intensive care.

PSV: Anything else you’d like to share?
BP: I think the opportunities for telehealth in the future are limitless. We just need to ensure that we can keep up with the pace of technology and that we are constantly keeping ourselves educated and up to speed on best practices. Having communities and telehealth resources centers available is an essential component to the continued successes of telemedicine.

What is your story? Have you had the opportunity to use telemedicine technology? Tell us about it below.