LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center announced their Institute of Telehealth and Digital Innovation Tuesday morning at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. TTUHSC was able to get the institute off the ground through $10 million in funding from the Texas Legislature. The institute’s focus on digital health will help with the lack of access to health care in rural communities.

According to Dr. Lori Rice-Spearman, the president of TTUHSC, 38 of the 108 counties they serve do not have direct access to primary care. For some, the closest doctor is a two or three-hour drive away. The digital health-oriented institute could completely change that story by bringing doctors to patients in a virtual format.

Those who live in rural areas far from physicians risk waiting too long to see a doctor or enduring a long trip in the event of an emergency. A day trip to the doctor for a far-away patient could cost the patient anything from a whole day at work to their life.

“If you have to drive one hundred, two hundred miles somewhere, you could keel over with a heart attack. We don’t want that to happen to you. So we will come to you virtually,” John Gachago, the executive director for the Institute of Telehealth and Digital Innovation said.

Gachago said with this institute, they’ll be able to treat many people with telehealth. He said this could not only save the patient in an emergency, but it could prevent a problem from happening in the first place. 

“If your blood pressure spikes, we see it right away … we call you and say ‘Hey what’s going on? Are you okay? How can we help?’ It might be nothing but it might be something and that way we’re able to be more proactive about your care,” Gachago said.

Ariel Santos, who is a surgeon and director of the Texas Tech telemedicine program, has seen a lot of success using telemedicine.

“I could be at the bedside with that patient and take care of the Intensive Care needs of that patient away from the bedside,” Santos said.

Santos thinks the institute could fill the gaps in places where there isn’t accessible medical care now.

“There’s a huge need. We all know that the majority of Texas doesn’t have primary care physicians and this could be a way to bring the primary care physicians to our patients,” Santos said.

Gachago said he expects to see some big impacts result from the institute within the next six months.