Taitung County accounts for one-10th of the area of Taiwan, and yet it only has one regional and six district hospitals, which are all in downtown Taitung City. This means critically ill patients are generally rushed to Taipei or Kaohsiung for treatment due to the serious lack of medical resources in the county.
The county’s local health centers in remote areas are inadequately equipped and constantly understaffed. As a result of poor transportation, together with a low and scattered population and low pay, many doctors are reluctant to work there.
To help solve the problem, the Taitung County Government has signed memorandums of understanding with Kaohsiung Medical University’s Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital and E-Da Hospital in Kaohsiung.
Chung-Ho has been sending doctors to Dawu Township (大武) since February and, as of this month, to Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), while E-Da last month started sending doctors to a station on Green Island.
As medical centers are, for the first time, providing services in Taitung, local residents now feel assured that their health is being more adequately catered for. While thankful, they are nonetheless concerned whether this is a long-term solution or just temporary medical assistance.
Following is a summary of suggestions by local residents on how to resolve this problem.
First, recruit young people in remote areas as state-sponsored medical students: They can be divided into two groups — regular students and students from Aboriginal communities and outlying islands.
The government has financed more than 6,000 medical students over the years, but most regular students leave when their service period ends, with only 1 percent opting to stay. Only by recruiting among local youth who are more willing to stay in these areas can the government implement its policy of training doctors for remote areas.
Second, improve the medical equipment at health centers in rural townships.
Health centers should be able to perform basic exams, such as ultrasounds and gastroscopies, so that people living in remote areas would no longer have to a big hospital for exams.
It is unfortunate that medical equipment purchased by health centers is not covered by the National Health Insurance system, so such equipment is often insufficient.
Third, introduce measures to improve the division of labor.
Medical assistance in remote areas is currently the responsibility of top-level medical centers, but they are mostly located in Taipei and New Taipei City, which runs counter to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s local medical policy.
Medical centers should assist ministerial-level institutions, which in turn should assist health centers. They should also assist remote areas with emergency or critical cases, while long-term care patients can be handled by medical foundation hospitals, ministerial-level institutions or military hospitals.
For example, in Taitung, medical centers could support Taitung Hospital, which could support township health centers to help resolve the shortage of doctors.
Chen Chien-hsien is a former director of Taitung County Education Department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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