Mobile surgery to improve rural healthcare provision

“Demographic change is one of the most pressing political issues of our time and presents the healthcare system with new challenges, particularly in rural areas,” stresses German MP Albert Stegemann at the presentation of the “Mobile Surgery” concept at Wietmarscher Ambulanz- und Sonderfahrzeug GmbH (WAS), invited to speak at the event by Andreas Ploeger, Managing Director of WAS GmbH, and Thomas Nerlinger, Managing Director of the EUREGIO healthcare region.

“It is all the more important that we take a cross-system approach in our thinking and use experience and knowledge from all areas of society in order to develop flexible and innovative solutions based on real needs,” says Friedrich Kethorn, chief administrator of the local district. “The rise in the numbers of vacant doctors' positions is becoming an increasingly important local issue in many rural and thinly-populated regions, and the situation will be aggravated further with demographic development,” explains Oliver Christoffers, Managing Director of the Lower Saxony Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Osnabrück division. “It will only be possible to implement the project if the Association of SHI Physicians adapts its general framework,” says Dr Markus Kirschner, Vice Chairman of the EUREGIO healthcare region and chairman of the Grafschaft Ärztenetz regional medical network.

The healthcare region EUREGIO e.V., with its roughly 90 members and cooperation partners, addressed this issue at the beginning of the year. “I have welcomed this initiative right from the very beginning,” says Stegemann. The County Health Association, based in the NINO HOCHBAU Kompetenzzentrum Wirtschaft (Centre of Excellence for Economics) in Nordhorn, is participating alongside nearly 40 well-known project partners in a tender for the project “Innovations for communities and regions in demographic change (InnovaKomm)” with their proposal “Village Community 2.0 – A future for the elderly in rural areas”. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research will sponsor 20 projects across Germany in the first phase of a Government-run demographics competition. “We didn't expect to receive so much regional support. That shows the huge importance of working together to develop innovative solutions,” says the Chairman, Dr Arno Schumacher. “We are grateful to all our project partners for their willingness to provide support and hope to put this flagship project into action with the help of project sponsorship,” says Schumacher. “I would particularly like to thank our active cooperation partners, Bentheim County District and the University of Osnabrück Faculty of Management, Culture and Technology at the Lingen Campus, who have actively supported us in drawing up the outline proposal.”

“One vital component in “Village Community 2.0” is the mobile surgery provided by WAS GmbH in the mobile diagnosis and therapy services cloud,” says Nerlinger, highlighting its significance both regionally and more widely. Ploeger continues in the same vein, saying: “We are one of the leading companies in our industry and already have many years of experience in fitting out mobile clinics for international markets.” The strong local roots of the company are revealed in their high level of motivation for this project: “The time has come to break new ground and make rural life more attractive. It was obvious to us that we should participate in the Village Community project to provide support for the demographic change. Setting up a mobile surgery could be one solution.”

Ploeger goes on to present the concept in detail: “This takes medical check-ups, treatment and follow-up care on the road. It is important that this work station has an attractive design. Associated with this is a fundamental increase in the flexibility of use, for example for medical staff but also for physiotherapists, chiropodists or even perhaps district nurses. Besides the GP practice, there will also be a mobile surgery, enabling doctors to visit patients and customers in their own home. “For us, it would of course also be conceivable for the surgery to go across the border into other countries. Thanks to the EU Directive on patient mobility introduced in October 2013, this would be of added international significance and would represent specific help locally for patients affected,” explains Nerlinger.

Matthias Quickert, Sales Manager at WAS, outlines the technical equipment in the mobile surgery, which has a permitted total weight of 3.5 T and is realised using a base vehicle chassis with state-of-the-art fuel-efficient Euro 5 and Euro 6 engines. “The highly modular box body with built-on and extending structures, TÜV-crash-tested in accordance with EN 1789, produces a variable usage concept for a wide variety of specialist medical fields, the like of which has never been seen before,” explains Quickert. The surgery will have a modern energy-saving lighting concept (LED lamps) and performance-optimised battery charging management (lithium-ion batteries). A high level of energy efficiency is achieved thanks to the use of box bodies with very good thermal insulation values. Modules are also provided for the safe transmission of patient information.

The mobile surgery will be on display for the first time at the IAA for utility vehicles in Hanover at the end of September. There are also plans to present it at Medica in Düsseldorf in November.

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