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Report finds Houston is short on health care workers

A report found that Houston has only 3.35 health care workers for every 100 residents. Getty Images

Houston may be home to the world's largest medical center, but a new study indicates the region is also home to one of the lowest rates of health care workers among major U.S. metro areas.

The study, released by credit-building loan platform Self, shows the Houston metro area has 3.35 health care workers for every 100 residents. That places Houston at No. 10 on the study's list of the major metro areas (at least 1 million residents) with the lowest share of health care workers per capita, including doctors, nurses, and therapists.

The only other major metro area in Texas sitting toward the bottom rung of the ladder is Austin, with 3.17 health care workers per 100 residents. That puts Austin at No. 4 for the lowest rate of health care workers among major metro areas.

Houston's ranking in the Self study is juxtaposed with the city's status as a world-famous health care hub. Over 106,000 people work at the more than 60 institutions within the Texas Medical Center, which includes the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children's Hospital, and the Baylor College of Medicine.

The 1,345-acre medical complex pumps an estimated $25 billion a year into the regional economy.

Despite Houston's stature as a medical magnet, the metro area is witnessing an escalating shortage of doctors and nurses.

A 2016 report from the Texas Department of State Health Services envisions the supply of registered nurses (RNs) — the largest group of nursing professionals — will climb 38 percent from 2015 to 2030 in the Gulf Coast public health region, compared with a 60.5 percent surge in demand. That equates to a projected shortage of 13,877 RNs in 2030. The Gulf Coast region includes the Houston area.

From 2017 to 2030, the supply of primary care physicians in the Gulf Coast region will increase 19.8 percent while demand will spike 27.5 percent, according to a 2018 report from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Ten years from now, the region will suffer a shortage of 694 primary care physicians, the report predicts.

In a 2019 survey commissioned by the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute, about 90 percent of primary care physicians across the country predicted a shortage in their field within five years. Seventy-eight of specialty physicians anticipated a shortage of specialists.

On the consumer side, the survey found 19 percent of patients reported difficulty scheduling an initial visit with a primary care physician, and 15 percent ran into trouble setting up a new visit with a specialist.

"The best way to tell if we have a doctor shortage is by asking patients whether they can easily get an appointment," Dr. Arthur "Tim" Garson Jr., director of the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute in Houston, said in a 2019 release. "For now, they overwhelmingly say 'yes.'"

By 2030, Texas will experience the third largest shortage of physicians among the states (20,420 jobs), according to a study published in 2020 in the journal Human Resources for Health. Only California and Florida will see worse shortages, the study predicts. The physician shortage in Texas is being driven by a growing population, an aging population and an aging pool of doctors, according to the study.

Noting the country's growing and aging population, a study published in 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the U.S. confronts a shortage of up to 121,900 physicians by 2032.

The looming national shortage of RNs is also acute.

The country's RN workforce is projected to grow from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026, or 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the bureau predicts the need for another 203,700 RNs each year from 2016 through 2026 to fill newly created positions and to replace retiring nurses.

"With patient care growing more complex, ensuring a sufficient RN workforce is not merely a matter of how many nurses are needed, but rather an issue of preparing an adequate number of nurses with the right level of education to meet health care demands," Ann Cary, dean of the Marieb College of Health and Human Services at Florida Gulf Coast University, said in a 2019 release

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Melax Tech has developed multiple Natural language processing tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations. Photo via MelaxTech.com

Melax Tech Partners, a leader in natural language technology processing, announced a new partnership with the University of California at Irvine that will help researchers derive insights from the UCI Health Data Science Platform’s electronic health records system and improve patient care.

Melax will implement its signature text annotation tool LANN to pull information from clinical notes, and its CLAMP product to develop natural language processing customizations through the use of AI, according to a statement from the company.

“There has been a strong desire among UCI researchers to have the capability to analyze free-text clinical narrative data using cutting-edge NLP technologies," Kai Zheng, chief research information officer at UCI Health Affairs, says in a statement. "We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Melax Tech to deploy their AI-driven annotation and analytics tools to help our researchers advance their research agenda by leveraging the vast amount of free-text data that our health system has accumulated in the past two decades.”

Natural language processing, or NLP, allows organizations and healthcare groups to sift through and analyze massive amounts of data at a rapid rate through the use of machine learning and AI. Houston-based Melax Tech, founded in 2017, has developed multiple NLP tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations, according to its website.

In addition to the recent partnership with UC Irvine, Melax has also recently partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Western Pennsylvania on similar clinical projects.

Melax has also used its platforms to pull vital information from datasets relating to COVID-19, in both medical and social settings.

In March 2022, it was awarded a Phase 1 NIH Award, valued at $300,000, to develop informatics tools based on COVID-19 datasets with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego. The tool aims to help researchers better understand vast amounts of virus-related data and connect findings with other similar results.

In August, Melax also received another $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop NLP-based algorithms that will "model, extract and synthesize vaccine misinformation from multiple popular social media sources," according to a statement. Melax will also develop a visualization that presents its findings on the misinformation into a compressible format.

"This is a very real topic affecting culture at present," Andre Pontin, CEO at Melax Tech, says in a statement. "And shows that we as a collective business and group of experts continue to be on the cutting-edge of science in the NLP and AI domain."

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