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Medicine Matters

Real problems with health care and how Texas can help solve them: Straight talk from doctors

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Dr. Paul Klotman, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine, joined other education leaders for a discussion on "Educating, Recruiting & Retaining Talent." Courtesy of Baylor College of Medicine
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The Texas Lyceum 2012 Public Conference promised to bring together influentials in the health care industry with government representatives, advocacy groups, philanthropists and venture capitalists, and it followed through with its problem-solving mission from the top of the agenda on Friday morning. 

A crash course on the current state of health care by Dr. Jennifer Litton, assistant professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, laid the frame for the day's discussion, which began with a panel on "Educating, Recruiting & Retaining Talent" under the moderation of Amir Halevy

"This panel represents medical education in Texas," said Halevy, introducing Dr. Kenneth Shine, executive vice chancellor of health affairs for the University of Texas System; Dr. Sam Shomaker, dean of medicine and vice president for clinical affairs at the Texas A&M Health Science Center; Dr. Paul Klotman, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine; and Dr. Tedd Mitchell, president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. 

 The general consensus seemed that one thing stands in the way: Money, or rather the lack of it. 

 The panelists quickly launched into a discussion of how to attract top medical talent from outside of Texas and how to keep those that the state and individual institutions have already invested so much in. The general consensus seemed that one thing stands in the way: Money, or rather the lack of it. 

"It's expensive to recruit," said Shine, acknowledging that it sometimes costs upwards of $15 million to draw an outstanding scientist and his or her team to Texas.

On top of that, it's costly to teach homegrown students. Funds from the state and federal government don't even begin to cover the bills incurred in educating medical professionals, not to mention putting them through the requisite residency.

Plus, despite limited government funding and capped in-state residency positions, the medical schools have been asked to up their attendance numbers. In 2015, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of graduates but not nearly enough residency slots to absorb them all — a problem that is amplified on a national level. 

"This is one place where Texas can really be a leader," Klotman said. He believes that it would be a wise political move for the state legislature to increase positions and prioritize funding for them. 

The state also faces insufficient family physicians, yet another problem that can be traced to pecuniary reasoning. An average medical student racks up close to $150,000 in debt by the time he or she has completed studies, and the decision to forsake primary care in favor of a more highly-paid medical subspecialty means that money can be more quickly recouped. 

 The state also faces insufficient family physicians, yet another problem that can be traced to pecuniary reasoning. 

Although Lubbock's geographic isolation makes it a hard sell, Mitchell detailed how Texas Tech University has developed fast-track programs that reduce the burden of tuition and produce more primary care physicians. The school has also used the sparse population distribution to its advantage by investing in telemedicine infrastructure to connect rural Texans with physicians in the population centers. 

The health care industry is reaching a critical mass in Texas, and while the issues blocking a boom are dire, the Texas Lyceum presents an open forum to exchange information and solve the problems that stand in the way. 

Topics for the rest of the day included the future of cancer medicine in Texas; funding for commercialization of medicine; and improving patient health care through technology and through legislation.

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