To reduce the health care disparity between rural and urban Taiwan, the government in recent years has introduced a number of measures that have noticeably enhanced the accessibility and quality of care in remote communities. On November 14, 2019, the Executive Yuan also approved a rural health care improvement program to further strengthen local care standards and provide residents with better services. In addition to emphasizing health promotion and preventive care on the front end, and integrating long-term care services on the back end, the program is customizing delivery for each region to ensure residents everywhere can enjoy access to quality medical care.
■ Expand local medical talent pool:
The government is alleviating the medical personnel shortage through various plans and measures, such as cultivating medical talent from among indigenous communities and outlying islands, encouraging government-sponsored medical school graduates to remain in rural areas after completing their service obligations, and providing incentives for retired civil-service medical workers to rejoin the workforce at rural hospitals.
■ Improve accessibility to medical resources:
A flexible payment scheme has been created to encourage larger medical institutions to collaborate with health centers and clinics in mountainous areas and outlying islands. Special funding is available to attract physicians (including of traditional Chinese medicine) and dentists to open practices in resource-deficient areas. Mobile clinics also deliver medical care to underserved communities.
■ Upgrade facilities and equipment at public hospitals:
On outlying islands, hospitals are installing telemedicine facilities to reach patients in geographically isolated locations, and acquiring new equipment to improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses. Local health centers, meanwhile, may receive reconstruction and renovation subsidies to enhance service efficiency.
■ Boost emergency care capabilities:
Regional networks have been established to coordinate emergency care among hospitals with capabilities. Another program allows larger medical centers to provide staff support to emergency rooms and acute care units in rural hospitals. Taiwan is aiming to have at least one hospital in every city and county capable of treating the most critical cases, and to set up 24-hour emergency care stations in outlying islands and mountainous regions.
■ Promote remote health care:
To ease the shortage of specialist physicians in rural areas, the government is promoting digital medical records, loosening regulations on remote care, and establishing departments of telemedicine (for outpatient care and consultations) on a trial basis.
■ Strengthen medical evacuation mechanisms:
Air ambulances stationed on the islands of Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu provide emergency medical evacuation services, including a videoconferencing platform that allows critical care physicians from the evacuating hospital, the receiving hospital, and the evacuation approval center to gather virtually and make decisions in real time.