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Premier endorses plan to improve health care in remote areas

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Premier Su Tseng-chang said during Thursday's weekly Cabinet meeting that while Taiwan as a whole enjoys one of the world's best health care systems, in more remote areas such as mountain villages and outlying islands, health care resources—both in terms of personnel and facilities—fall far short of the national average. The premier instructed the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) to carry on with its plan to improve medical care in remote areas and upgrade the overall health care environment for residents of these locales.

Premier Su made his remarks following a briefing by the MOHW on the plan, which the premier approved on November 8 this year.

Since her inauguration, President Tsai Ing-wen has placed particular emphasis on improving medical care in remote areas, and has already launched initiatives on three fronts, said Premier Su. The first involves greater access to and availability of medical services. The MOHW is cooperating with major medical centers to integrate basic clinics and local health centers in order to provide vehicle-based evening and weekend urgent care, as well as other services like regularly scheduled local mobile treatment, physical exams, and house calls. There is also a push to fill medical resource gaps in outlying areas by expanding digital health care and the application of telemedicine.

On the second front, efforts are focused on improving facilities and emergency response capabilities, said the premier. Last year the MOHW enabled more accurate diagnoses in Penghu and Taitung hospitals with the installation of MRI machines. The ministry also rebuilt or renovated 18 district health centers in indigenous communities and outlying islands. In such locales as Hengchun, Taitung and Miaoli, the MOHW this year facilitated the upgrade of local hospitals into full-service hospitals, and in August 2018 officially launched locally based emergency medical evacuation by air in the outlying islands of Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. A total of NT$370 million (US$12.1 million) is invested each year to fund a dedicated aircraft for each of these three island counties.

Finally, improving health care in remote areas requires a sufficient number of physicians, Premier Su said. The plan allocates a five-year (2019 to 2023) budget of NT$1 billion (US$32.8 million) to encourage more than 600 doctors educated at public expense to continue serving in local communities once their required term expires. Retired government physicians will also be sought to return to work in order to even out the supply of medical personnel in remote areas.

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