Fort Worth

Does Fort Worth have what it takes to become a leader in the healthcare innovation?

Fort Worth stands poised to take a lead role in healthcare, but it’s going to take the community to help grow a medical hub that is innovative while also training a new generation of tech-savvy doctors who connect with patients, the president of the UNT Health Science Center told business leaders on Wednesday.

The city, which is the 13th largest in the nation, is home to the University of North Texas Health Science Center, two physician training programs and hospital systems that are tackling a number of medical issues — from liver transplants to obesity to asthma.

“We are positioned really well for the future to keep more doctors in Fort Worth and Tarrant County and definitely Texas,” said Dr. Michael R. Williams, president of the UNT Health Science Center. “We want them in Tarrant County and Fort Worth so we can keep up with the growing population. But we were starting from behind so we are trying to catch up.”

But becoming a national leader means healthcare, business and community leaders need to be forward thinking about setting the agenda for the future, Williams told an audience of business leaders who gathered downtown for a healthcare symposium hosted by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

The event included a panel discussion with the leaders of several medical systems, including Cook Children’s Health Care System, Texas Health Resources and JPS Health Network. Healthcare leaders delved into Fort Worth’s healthcare industry and explained how it is evolving.

Training tomorrow’s healthcare providers

Williams explained that medical students are becoming doctors as technology changes quickly. Meanwhile, confused patients are trying to make their way through complex healthcare systems that include confusing medical terms and bills.

The future will demand doctors who are comfortable working to heal patients while also continuing their learning, Williams said.

Additionally, doctors of tomorrow will deliver care in homes, hospitals, retail spaces and via the Internet. Healthcare providers will need to connect personally with patients — delivering “human-to-human” care, he said.

Williams said the work underway at the health science center is helping build Fort Worth’s medical hub.

The campus, tucked in the city’s cultural district, is home to the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, or TCOM. It also houses several other programs, including the School of Public Health and School of Health Professions and the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine.

The new medical school is a partnership between TCU and the UNTHSC. Doctors-in-training in that program attend both campuses while also learning hands-on in professional clinics.

Williams said having both programs in Fort Worth is helping grow more residency programs that will also help add more doctors to the region.

Health issues

Healthcare leaders said they are focused on addressing health issues before patients end up in emergency rooms.

Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan said he no longer uses the phrase “hospital system” when talking about Texas Health because the non-profit system is focusing on keeping consumers healthy and tending to their well-being needs, in addition to providing care to the sick and injured.

Berdan said Texas Health has also established programs and initiatives aimed at improving the health and well-being of citizens before such traditional care is needed.

That means, going “upstream” to address the conditions in the places where people live, work and play because a person’s ZIP code can determine more about their health than their genetic code, he said.

For example, this year, Texas Health began awarding millions in grants for non-profit organizations such as the United Way of Tarrant County to address issues like depression, social isolation, and access to healthy food.

The $5.2 million in grants awarded this year focus on five ZIP codes throughout the 16-county area Texas Health covers, including in Southeast Fort Worth.

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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.