Services offered in The Woodlands keep residents from traveling to Houston Medical Center

In the nearly 40 years since its inception, The Woodlands has grown from a one hospital town to a community with leading-edge medical technology and health care amenities previously found only downtown at the Medical Center. As the population in The Woodlands grows, so too are its medical amenities, with several facilities either in the works or already under construction. Now, one of the most significant growth sectors in the medical industry in The Woodlands has been in specialty and subspecialty health care.

Woodlands residents who previously had to drive 35 miles to the Houston Medical Center to receive care for medical issues such as neurology, acute wounds or complicated brain surgery now may not need to leave their own community.

“When you’re able to provide this level of sophisticated services, people don’t want to drive to the Medical Center,” said Steve Sanders, chief executive office of Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital. “You want to stay in your community.”

Specialty care

This fall, St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital opened a wound care facility on its campus, the first of its kind in the South Montgomery/North Harris County area.

“What we see in our population is the epidemic of diabetes: obesity, foot ulcers—that’s the bad news,” said Dr. Caroline Fife, director of the St. Luke’s wound care facility. “The good news is that we have the burgeoning of technology that can handle a lot of these problems with specialized knowledge.”

St. Luke’s The Woodlands opened a sports medicine rehabilitation facility on its campus this summer, and Memorial Hermann plans to open the IronMan Sports Medicine Institute in May. In addition to those facilities, each hospital campus features a variety of specialty health care services.

The American Board of Medical Specialties is made up of 24 boards that provide certification in 24 specialty medical fields and 130 subspecialties. According to ABMS, 439 doctors in The Woodlands have been certified by the ABMS.

At Memorial Hermann The Woodlands, Sanders said some of the specialty groups include gynecological oncology, a Level3 neonatal intensive care unit, robotic surgery, colon and rectal surgery, and vascular, thoracic and chest surgical abilities.

“There is also tremendous growth in neuroscience, neurosurgery and neurology,” Sanders said.

Specialty health care amenities are not just available at The Woodlands’ two major hospitals. Tom Pisula, owner of Pisa Development, which specializes in developing medical offices and facilities throughout The Woodlands and South Montgomery County, said some of his companies’ upcoming developments include orthopedic surgery centers, ambulatory surgery centers and cancer treatment facilities.

Pisula said many of these types of treatments were previously only available at the Medical Center.

“I think there is still a perception that the Medical Center has better or more advanced service, more research,” he said. “But now maybe 90 percent [of residents] can stay in The Woodlands [for their health care], as opposed to 50 percent before.”

Supporting population

Health care leaders attribute the development of specialty amenities to The Woodlands’ growing population and the ability of that population to support providers.

“You have to have a critical mass of population,” Sanders said. “Secondly, you have to have some balanced demographics. You have to have a decent base of insured [residents], Medicaid and Medicare. Next, you need the physicians who can perform these specialized services.”

The Woodlands, he said, has each of those requirements in place. Fife said a shift is occurring in the Houston area in the way doctors operate their practices.

“Many of these individuals who provide subspecialty care realized that the communities they were traveling from could support their subspecialty,” Fife said. “You get referrals from specialists, and [doctors] end up with a very specific group of patients. As a result, it is often difficult to keep a practice going, except in a big metropolitan area. That’s not true anymore in The Woodlands.”

As a result, doctors have begun migrating their practices where they are most likely to be used, she said.

“Patients don’t live in the Medical Center,” Fife said. “They live in Cinco Ranch, Kingwood, The Woodlands. Physicians and hospitals are realizing they are better off being where the patients are.”

Woodlands neurologist Dr. Kevin Gaffney has expanded his practice to include stroke care and surgical services as the population has grown.

“Our options have expanded,” he said. “The scope of things is turning.”

Pisula Development has about 18 medical office and health care facilities throughout South Montgomery County and The Woodlands, with more on the way.

“The Woodlands has gone from 30,000 to 100,000,” Pisula said. “The medical practices are just now catching up with it.”

Future opportunities

With The Woodlands population on the brink of eclipsing the 100,000 mark, and with population numbers in the region expected to rapidly escalate in the coming years, specialty health care amenities are expected to continue to grow.

“Two things will happen,” Sanders said. “As physicians move into the community, they will put pressure on us to provide a higher level of care. They are going to want us to develop programs around their expertise. Also, the community itself will demand more services, and we’ll have to respond to those.”

Some of the areas that Sanders said he sees as growth opportunities in the local health care industry include neuroscience and oncology. Fife said dhe expects increased amenities for the area’s aging population, such as Alzheimer’s care and assisted living facilities. The Woodlands, she said, is one of the few communities that can support such amenities.

“Physicians thought the only place their subspecialties could survive was the Medical Center and that’s not true anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if that scenario is true anywhere else. I’m not really sure that this story would be true in any other city.”


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