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Texas facing doctor shortage

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(KYTX) - Texas hospitals are bracing for a shortage of doctors ahead of the Affordable Care Act kicking in next year. The concern is that millions of people will have access to health care for the first time, spreading doctors thin and potentially affecting patient care.

The president of UT Health Northeast (formerly UT Health Science Center at Tyler) has already testified before our state legislature about it.

Dr. Kirk Calhoun says Texas is below average when it comes to the ratio of doctors to patients.

The national average is 240 doctors per 100,000 people. In Texas, it's 168 doctors per 100,000 people. Dr. Calhoun says if we don't get more doctors soon, there won't be enough of them to go around for patients.

"This is a serious issue." says Dr. Calhoun. "We're already facing a shortage with additional patients coming onboard. And, with the Affordable Care Act and with the aging of population. The baby boomers are getting old now, and they're demanding many more medical services."

He says all of that is putting pressure on the limited number of doctors we have in the state.

"This is the conflict, I think, that we're all facing- greater demands for lower cost. And, we're trying to figure out how to best do that.

Dr. Calhoun says even if Texas does not expand Medicaid, millions of Texans are still expected to get insurance for the first time under the Affordable Care Act.

"There could be longer waiting times depending on if they're trying to get in to see a particular physician." says Dr. Calhoun.

72-year-old Judith Covington is worried about that.

"Because, it's hard for us to get here." she says. "It takes about 3.5 hours to get here. And, if it's late, it's dark going back. And, we don't like to travel in the dark."

Dr. Calhoun says those in the health care industry are working hard to avoid those inconveniences.

"Physicians may not be the only answer. Many of us believe that there's going to be more use of nurse practitioners, greater use of physicians assistants."

But, Covington doesn't like that idea either.

"I had to go through that once before because I lost my doctor. He moved away and I had to go to the nurse practitioner. And, with my problem, I was very concerned because I wasn't sure if she knew what needed to done."

But Dr. Calhoun says resources are going to have to be stretched and changes will have to be made in order to keep all Texans healthy. Those changes should not affect the actual quality of patient care.

Dr. Calhoun says he feels optimistic about new medical schools opening up across the state in Rio Grande Valley, Austin and the El Paso area.

But, Dr. Calhoun says there's a huge bottleneck issue with residency programs because there's more graduates than there are residency training spots. So right now, many Texas graduates are having to go out of state for their residencies.

UT Health Northeast and Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview have worked hard to open up more opportunities for residences. They're hoping other Texas hospitals will do the same.

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