Big City Health Care in a Small Town

Gainesville, Texas is a small town of 16,000 near the Oklahoma border, with a history steeped in oil, cattle, and cotton. Horse-breeding farms dot the surrounding landscape. More than 16 percent of the population is over 65. It’s the kind of place where people say hello to their neighbors, and everyone pitches in to build a community playground. The first spools of barbed wire sold in Texas were sold here, in 1875. In many ways, it’s the very picture of small-town America. But there are some surprising facts about Gainesville that break with stereotypes.

For one thing, it has the Frank Buck Zoo, named after a 1910s trophy hunter from Gainesville who preferred to bring back exotic animals alive. The zoo recently received accreditation from the Zoological Society of America and has more than 150 animals.

Gainesville also hosts one of the most technologically advanced hospitals in Texas, the North Texas Medical Center (NTMC). After citizens passed a $26.5 million bond issue in 2002, the Gainesville Memorial Hospital transformed from a small-town hospital into a full-fledged medical center in 2004, moving to a new facility on 52 acres, which now includes a medical office building. Integral to the transformation was global technology company Siemens, which provided a wide array of top-of-the-line equipment to the hospital, including a CT (Computed Tomography or "CAT") scanner, MRI, ultrasound, and several mobile X-rays that can swing around patients while they remain stationary.

The move up to the "big leagues" of health care meant big changes for the residents of this rural community 65 miles north of Fort Worth.

"Before getting to our new facility, we did MRIs in a trailer," says Gayla Blanton, director of marketing at NTMC. "There’s just something about going outside the hospital and being lifted into a trailer to do a procedure like that. Moving it inside was a wonderful step forward. Also, I have had CTs done in our new 64-slice CT, and I am amazed at the speed of it."

Speed is an important factor for patients who are faced with the nerve-racking process of diagnosis for cancers and other life-threatening illnesses. The 64-slice CT from Siemens can perform angiographies in 15 to 30 minutes, compared to four to five hours using conventional scanners, for instance.

No one wants to lie flat inside a magnetized drum longer than absolutely necessary, but the speed offered by the Siemens technology is also an important factor in patient safety and imaging accuracy. Reducing errors due to "motion artifacts," or blurred images, means fewer re-scans, and less discomfort and radiation exposure for patients.

"Better quality images give better detail," says director of medical imaging James Hannigan. "Faster scanning time gives less patient motion and better quality images."

Despite the importance of speed, the technology infusion hasn’t affected the pace of life and the personalized, direct quality of care at NTMC that Gainesville residents have come to expect. While stories abound about the expense of health care and the incentive for hospitals to move patients out as quickly as possible, that doesn’t seem to be happening in Gainesville.

"The speed of the equipment isn’t about 'hurry and get the patient out,'" Hannigan says. "It is about the quality of care."

While it is transitioning from a farming community into a more diverse economy that increasingly includes tourism and industrial development, Gainesville is certainly not as affluent as many of its neighbors to the south in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. But because Siemens extended a range of financing options to NTMC for the equipment, it now boasts a highly competitive range of technology-driven medical services, yet with a small-town flavor.

"Because Siemens worked with us to make the technology affordable and available, we are able to provide care locally that previously was obtained in competitor hospitals 35 miles south and east," Blanton says. "Our community members no longer have to travel long distances to get the care they need—it is available right here. That is important to our entire community, but particularly to our seniors."

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