Increasing the impact of mobile healthcare though telemedicine

Over the years, mobile clinics have revolutionised the healthcare industry, bringing much-needed healthcare services to individuals in decentralised areas. The convenience of mobile health clinics to be at any location ensures that no citizen is left without access to quality, affordable healthcare within their community.

Other impacts of mobile clinics in delivering healthcare include: 

  • Accessibility: Mobile clinics are improving access to care, serving uninsured individuals, and operating in low-income communities.
  • Comprehensive care: Mobile health clinics are as well-equipped as doctors’ consulting rooms and clinics. This means that patients receive comprehensive primary healthcare without having to seek out district hospitals.
  • Quality healthcare: In addition to being subject to the same regulations, compliance, and quality assurance as hospitals and clinics, mobile health units are further exposed to internal and external audits by the Department of Health and Office of The Health Ombudsman. These regulations ensure that patients receive the same level of quality care from professional medical practitioners at a low cost.

Telemedicine can play a huge role in further advancing the impact mobile clinics have. What is telehealth and what are the healthcare services that can be provided through telehealth? Telehealth or telemedicine connects patients to vital healthcare services using technology. Some examples of this are:

  • Enabling patients to communicate with healthcare providers via videoconferencing.
  • Sending and receiving messages from a healthcare provider via secure messaging or email.
  • Remote monitoring of vital signs to help healthcare providers stay informed on patient’s progress.

Many conditions ranging from chronic diseases to mental health can be monitored remotely through app-based solutions that connect patients to their providers.

If mobile clinics implement the use of telehealth, it will offer increased access to specialists (who would otherwise not be reached) located far away from patients residing in rural/remote areas, eradicating the need for travel, and time off from work. It would also address physician burnout by reducing clinicians’ drive times and allowing time to service more patients. Furthermore, in a virtual consultation, primary care providers within the mobile clinics can get input from specialists in other locations should they have questions about patient diagnosis or treatments, allowing them to give better care.

Most importantly, telehealth allows Healthcare providers to send patients valuable information to equip them to manage their health at home. This information includes notifications or reminders for rehabilitation exercises or to take medication, suggestions for the improvement of diet, mobility or stress management, detailed instructions on how to continue care at home, and encouragement to stick with the treatment plan.

Virtual care technology provided by telehealth saves patients time and money and reduces patient transfers, emergency room and urgent care centre visits. By combining telemedicine and mobility, we provide support to an exposed section of the population through sustainable and flexible solutions. It also allows clinicians to record patient data in real-time, increasing the number of patients they can treat and enabling them to treat patients across much wider areas.

Using both telemedicine and mobile health clinics has the potential to not only improve the quality of healthcare but make it easier and more efficient for people to get healthcare across South Africa.

The Need for Mobility for the Renewal of Driver’s Licenses

In South Africa, a driver’s license is the official document which authorizes the holder to drive a motor vehicle. Obtaining a driver’s license is a big step towards independence. Unfortunately, it must also be renewed every five years, which can be a frustrating process due to long queues and current backlogs where drivers are likely to experience delays.

As of January 2022, the Department of Transport has confirmed a backlog of almost 2.1 million licenses which have been affecting motorists and the number is increasing. Currently, motorists are frustrated by the long wait for their driver’s license renewals and have been dealing with a yearlong wait for their renewed licenses. This has forced most of them to apply for temporary licenses, a cheaper alternative that is only valid for 6 months.

Mobile license renewal offices could be one of the solutions for reducing long queues in the Traffic Department offices. Several Government institutions have been making use of mobile offices to take services directly to communities and fight the war against queues at their offices. These include the Department of LabourGauteng Department of Economic DevelopmentDepartment of Rural Development and Land Reform as well as the National Home Builders Registration Council, amongst others.

How would the mobile office work?

The mobile office is a technologically developed ‘bus’ that allows the community to do photocopies of their I.D, take the required amount of black-and-white ID photographs, complete eye tests and the option of receiving prescription glasses if needed, as well as receiving assistance with the application form for a new driver’s license. These offices also give motorists the opportunity to pay for their outstanding traffic fines. 

It is to be made a priority that the community receives their renewed licenses within the four to six weeks timeframe stipulated.

Currently, people travel long distances to get to town for renewing their driver’s license with little resources, this is because most traffic departments are in urban areas and even these are not able to deal with the current demand. Mobile units are the solution, and they will have the following benefits:

  • The service will benefit the elderly, people living with disabilities.
  • It will save people time and money spent on going to the Traffic Department for driver’s license renewal.
  • It will save the Department of Transport money, as they will not have to invest in expensive brick-and-mortar facilities.
  • It will offer flexibility to the Department of Transport, in a way that mobiles can quickly and easily be deployed to areas where demand is high.
  • This service will relieve the overworked staff and reduce the backlog in issuing the renewed licenses.

The mobile driver’s license solution will increase licensed vehicles and safety on South African roads. Investment in mobile units is the way to go if we want to improve service delivery in the country.

Health on Wheels

Access to quality healthcare is a fundamental human need, but unfortunately, many disadvantaged areas such as rural areas and townships have limited access to quality healthcare services. However, mobile healthcare has emerged as an innovative solution to bridge the gap and ensure that quality healthcare services are accessible and available to everyone, regardless of their location or socio-economic status.

Kaiser Permanente’s Early Innovations

One of the early pioneers of mobile healthcare is Kaiser Permanente, who introduced mobile healthcare clinics in the 1970s to serve disadvantaged communities. Today, mobile healthcare clinics are still operational in many parts of the United States, providing access to quality healthcare services to millions of people.

Impact of Mobile Clinics in South Africa

In South Africa, mobile healthcare has proved to be a valuable tool in dealing with the HIV pandemic, with over 7.7 million people living with HIV. The BroadReach project, which operated between 2016 and 2017, fast-tracked the testing and treatment of HIV using mobile health clinics. The project was a tremendous success, testing over 24,585 people in just seven months, with 50% of them being male, the highest male testing rate reported by an HIV project.

Similarly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lung Institute deployed 10 TB mobile clinics in early 2021 provide rapid testing in poor communities, bridging the gap created by the pandemic and fast-tracking the diagnosis and treatment of TB.

Impact of Mobility on Healthcare Internationally

he impact of mobile healthcare is not limited to South Africa. The Mobile 1000 project, launched in India, aims to provide 1000 mobile healthcare vans that offer free primary healthcare to 25 million people in rural areas. The project has already reached 13.67 million people from 1560 villages across 15 states of India with just 205 mobiles.  

Additionally, the Mobile Health Map, a collaborative research community that evaluates the impact of mobile clinics, has found that mobile healthcare is cost-effective, does not compromise the quality of care provided, and helps to alleviate stress on the healthcare system. The Mobile Health Map has also reported a significant reduction in emergency room visits in areas where mobile clinics operate due to early screening and detection of potential high-risk health issues. 

In conclusion, mobile healthcare is an innovative solution that can revolutionize healthcare access and delivery in disadvantaged areas. With the advances in technology, such as telehealth, the benefits of mobile healthcare are expected to expand throughout South Africa and the world. At Guud, we are passionate about supporting life-changing, community-enhancing mobile healthcare projects and believe that these projects can have a significant impact on people’s lives.