At the Cabinet's weekly meeting Thursday, Premier Chen Chien-jen received a Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) report on strengthening medical care for rural and remote areas. The Executive Yuan in 2019 approved a program to improve health care for rural communities, allocating a budget of nearly NT$1 billion (US$32.6 million) to ensure residents of rural areas and outlying islands have access to comprehensive health care. Premier Chen said the program promotes four main strategies: boosting local emergency care capabilities, increasing primary care service capacities, expanding local medical talent pools and strengthening medical evacuation mechanisms. The program has been complemented by other major government policies that ease health care regulations and incorporate new information technologies into health care systems, thus furthering the comprehensive development and improvement of rural health care networks.
Doctors who attended medical school on government scholarships are of vital importance to rural health care, the premier said. Under the program's initiatives, the retention rate of such doctors who chose to continue practicing in rural areas now approaches 90%. In addition, the vacancy rate for rural physicians at MOHW-affiliated hospitals also dropped from 16.5% in 2020 down to zero.
To address areas of the country where health care provision is comparatively lacking, during the last few years the Executive Yuan has also approved a number of plans to build new hospitals or expand existing facilities. Beginning in 2021, public health centers in rural indigenous communities and on outlying islands have also been comprehensively expanded to include a telemedicine department. All these measures have freed up capacity for more primary care and emergency and critical care services.
Premier Chen asked the MOHW to continue working hard on the program and requested that it carry out a detailed review prior to the end of this year's project implementation period and propose an advancement plan for the next period. He also instructed the MOHW to continue assessing how it could make use of e-health and innovative service application models to improve the quality of medical care in rural areas and realize the goal of health equality.