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Initiative aims to add doctors in rural Oklahoma

An initiative designed to combat a shortage of doctors in rural Oklahoma is headed to the state Legislature. The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education approved a budget request Thursday that would fund the Oklahoma Healthcare Physician Shortage Initiative.
BY SILAS ALLEN Published: January 27, 2012

Unlike the Oklahoma City-based OU Health Sciences Center, the school focuses specifically on how to meet the needs of underserved areas and rethinking the way the health care system works, Clancy said.

One of the ways the system is changing is through the use of medical informatics, or computer software that is used to enhance medical care. Clancy said a professor recently developed a program that uses secure Internet connections to allow primary care doctors to reach medical specialists for consultation questions. The specialist then may simply answer the question or ask to see the patient.

Much of the time, Clancy said, doctors are finding that they avoid referring patients to specialists simply by talking to the specialist beforehand. That helps alleviate the strain on specialists, who tend to be in high demand, he said.

During the meeting, Howard Barnett, president of OSU-Tulsa and the OSU Center for Health Sciences, said the university hopes to establish a pipeline that would send doctors to rural Oklahoma.

The process would begin by seeking out students from rural areas and recruiting them to go to medical school. During medical school, those students would do as much of their work as possible in rural Oklahoma, Barnett said.

Part of the plan involves providing opportunities for medical students to do their residency work in rural hospitals, Barnett said. Because there aren't as many residency slots in Oklahoma as there are students who compete for them, Oklahoma students wind up taking residencies in nearby states.

Because doctors typically settle in towns near where they did their residencies, Barnett said, that means Oklahoma is training young doctors who end up practicing in other states.