Mobile medical services a boon for rural residents

Villagers line up to see doctors at a mobile fever clinic in Dingtang, a village in Ji'an, Jiangxi province, on Jan 4. (LI JUN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Wang Jun felt relieved when a doctor from Lindian township health center in Heilongjiang province told him that his elderly parents were stable, after examining them at their home.

The doctor had arrived in a fully equipped medical vehicle, part of Heilongjiang Health Commission's efforts to provide mobile medical services to vulnerable groups in rural areas where COVID-19 infections are being reported.

"In December, while preparing for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 infections, local doctors sent fever and cough medicines for my 91-year-old mother and 86-year-old father," said Wang.

"However, when my parents started showing some mild symptoms, including fever, headache and fatigue, I got worried, fearing that it might develop into a serious condition such as pneumonia."

Wang's primary concern was how to take his elderly parents, who have mobility problems, to an urban hospital for a checkup. He was astounded when he was told a doctor would instead visit their home.

"I was surprised when I saw the medical vehicle, which was equipped almost like a regular hospital. The doctor checked the temperature, blood pressure and blood oxygen level of my parents, and then did electrocardiograms," he said.

"The doctor left them some antiviral drugs with detailed instructions and promised to return in a few days to review their health, which eased all my worries," he added.

After China recently optimized its epidemic control policy, Heilongjiang's health authorities took steps to provide better medical services to vulnerable groups in rural areas with COVID-19 cases, including the elderly, people with chronic diseases and pregnant women.

The health commission recently received 20 vehicles equipped with medical devices from companies in Zhejiang province, which were sent to rural areas across Heilongjiang on Jan 7.

The vehicles, which each cost around 400,000 yuan ($59,000), are equipped for biochemical tests, electrocardiograms and ultrasound scans, as well as monitoring blood glucose, blood pressure and blood oxygen. The data can also be uploaded to a platform for further consultation, said the provincial health commission.

In China, 80 percent of medical resources are in cities. Rural areas, where seniors and children often account for majority of the population, face challenges, according to some experts.

Fang Jie, deputy director of Lindian county's health commission, said that the new model of mobile medical services "helps better secure the health of the rural population and relieves pressure on medical resources in the county. Priority is being given to susceptible groups, and the scope of medical services will be gradually expanded in the future."

Similar measures are being taken in other parts the country, such as in Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

A vehicle equipped with high-tech medical imaging devices, normally found only in hospitals, is currently offering free examinations to elderly residents on their doorstep in Qiantang district of Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang.

The vehicle, which is staffed by a team of medical professionals, provides mobile CT scan services for the elderly, especially those aged 65 and older, as well as for people with underlying medical conditions and those with mobility problems. The vehicle can process around 200 examinations per day.

These mobile medical services are expected to reduce the risk of severe illness and death resulting from COVID-19 infections.

According to the Qiantang district health commission, more than 12,000 residents, aged 65 and older, have underlying diseases and nearly 5,000 of them need access to mobile CT screening on their doorstep.

In Urumqi, Xinjiang, 75 teams comprising 209 medical workers have been mobilized to provide consultations in rural areas, and detect and treat COVID-19 infections as early as possible, the city government said.

"It has become normal to offer on-site consultations, basic diagnosis and treatment in rural areas," said Ma Chunmei, head of one of the teams. "The medical teams are focused on serving key groups, and they give residents healthcare and epidemic prevention advice."

Contact the writers at zhouhuiying@chinadaily