One approach to addressing social determinants of health: The Medibus, a medical practice on wheels

As part of our National Health IT Week blog series, we are going to take a look at the social determinants of health. This means the conditions under which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, to improve our overall health ecosystem and support healthy communities.

Physician shortages

One key factor impacting people around the world is physician shortages. In the U.S., there will be a predicted shortage of 122,000 doctors by 2032. And in Europe, they could face a shortage of 230,000 doctors by next year.

In Germany, this is becoming more critical because doctors are migrating to other countries, such as Switzerland, where they are offered higher salaries and more benefits. In general, as doctors are retiring, particularly in rural areas, their posts are not able to be filled. As a result, this puts additional pressure on the remaining physicians. The situation is worse for elderly people, who find it difficult to travel to cities to receive medical care.

Reaching those who need care the most

To address these challenges, Deutsche Bahn partnered with Cisco to create the Medibus, a medical practice on wheels. In addition to having all the equipment you would expect at any other medical practice, including a check-in area, laboratory, and exam room, the bus features state-of-the-art IT infrastructure.

With this technology, doctors onboard provide a number of different health services:

  • Primary care
  • Company medical examinations, such as ergonomics in the workplace
  • Remote diagnosis and second opinions via telemedicine
  • Care for patients who speak a foreign language with access to video translation services
  • Local health programs, such as vaccination campaigns; and health events, including blood pressure measurement or diabetes counseling

The Medibus was initially deployed in the state of Hesse in Germany, which is particularly impacted by an aging population and scarcity of practitioners. The Medibus worked directly with communities and doctors to identify the right stops and not compete with local doctors. Now, once a week, it stops in six villages and is able to accommodate 35 patients a day, 30% of whom are older than 76.

The challenges Germany is facing are not unique. Aging populations, physician shortages, and the urban-rural divide are problems that need to be solved around the world. Innovative programs, such as Medibus, that address these obstacles at a relatively low cost, using mobile infrastructure, and by apply existing technologies in new ways could be replicated around the world.

Check back for the rest of our National Health IT Week blog series to learn more about IT strategies that can help:

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