by Becca Aaronson
AUSTIN (THE TEXAS TRIBUNE) - Access to health care is scant across the vast rural regions of Texas, and it's a problem on track to worsen. Doctors, pharmacists and family planning clinics say state budget tightening may force many health care providers out of business or prevent them from providing adequate patient care. There's also fear that Texas medical schools won't produce enough primary care doctors to support the growing population and that there will not be enough residency positions for Texas medical students in the coming years.
The Tribune created this data interactive to illustrate just how lacking access is in some regions of the state. The majority of rural Texas lacks primary care physicians, pediatricians, obstetricians and gynecologists and other specialists, while more populated areas have a sufficient number of providers. The difficulty of recruiting doctors to rural areas means many patients must travel long distances to see a primary care doctor for preventative treatments that could save them from more costly illnesses down the line. They usually must travel even further to find specialists for treatment of chronic diseases.
In total, 132 Texas counties have a shortage of primary care doctors, according to federal government calculations. As of August 2011, Texas was short 484 primary care physicians in those areas. The federal data also shows 99 counties have a shortage of dental care providers and 202 have a shortage of mental health care providers.
The main criteria for determining which areas have a shortage of physicians, which you can find in detail here, is the ratio of providers to population. For primary care, an adequate ratio is roughly one physician per 3,000 people. The maps also show the number of providers registered to Texas medical boards in each county by specialty. Of Texas' 254 counties, 138 did not have a pediatrician, 144 did not have a gynecologist or obstetrician, and 29 did not have a primary care physician as of September 2011.
Other helpful notes: Direct patient care is the number of physicians who work with patients, and it excludes researchers, administrators or teachers registered with the medical board; the Medicaid enrollment statistics are from September 2011 and include patients who qualified retroactively for reimbursement for health services; the population data for Texas that was used in this interactive was estimated by the Texas DSHS for 2011.