Researchers from South Africa and Germany have joined forces to take the hospital-at-home concept to a new level. They’ve created a mobile healthcare center that fits into the back of a standard pickup truck. It can deliver services such as vaccinations, preventative examinations, and a range of health tests to people living in remote areas. Mounted on a Volkswagen pickup, this PreCare mobile platform recently began a yearlong trial in South Africa’s rural Mpumalanga province, where healthcare infrastructure is severely lacking.
The rolling healthcare unit does more than haul medical supplies around. It’s got a portable water-treatment plant, a unit that produces disinfectants on demand, a telecommunications system, and refrigerating space. Plus, diagnostic tools and medical devices, including ECGs, commonly found in clinical settings. And solar energy powers PreCare, making the mobile platform self-sufficient.
During the test run, medical professionals examine people in groups with high health risks, including pregnant women, offer preventative care, and suggest treatment options. Professor Grant Theron from Germany’s University of Stellenbosch says, “An] important aim of the platform is the early detection of diseases, which brings advanced diagnostic technologies closer to people — especially those in rural areas who often need to travel for days to seek care. This helps underserved people get the care they need sooner and at less financial and time expense to themselves and their caregivers.”
The United States could use just such a mobile healthcare solution. Pew Research shows that nearly a quarter of rural residents in the U.S. say access to good healthcare is a considerable problem in their community. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that most rural counties in America have an alarming lack of healthcare services. According to the USDA, metropolitan counties average 6.1 primary care physicians for every 10,000 residents, while rural counties average 4.1 physicians per 10,000.
Telehealth in rural communities has helped lessen the healthcare divide between rural and urban dwellers. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that rural residents are more likely to die prematurely from America’s leading causes of death: cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease. A high-tech health clinic on wheels could surely help some of these folks.