It is not easy for villagers living in mountainous areas to see a doctor at a county hospital due to inconvenient and costly transportation.
However, locals from remote and rural areas in mountainous Yanchuan county in Yan'an city, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, now have access to high-quality door-to-door medical services thanks to mobile hospitals.
Yanchuan, which has a population of 192,000, was one of two impoverished counties that announced the end of their poverty status recently. Of its population, there are 22,135 people who are impoverished.
The biggest challenge facing the county is poverty due to illnesses. A total of 3,285 households were poverty-stricken as a result of serious or chronic diseases, accounting for 45.3 percent of the county's impoverished population, said Zhang Feng, deputy director of the county's health bureau.
To cope with the problem, the county launched 13 mobile hospitals in 2017 to provide medical services to its 163 villages scattered in the mountainous area on the Loess Plateau.
The mobile hospitals, equipped with first-aid equipment and the necessary medical facilities, were transformed from ambulances.
Each mobile hospital has five medical workers on board, including a village doctor, a general practitioner, a nurse, a remote medical consultation operations staff member and a clinical staff member, said Guo Bao, director of the health center in Guanzhuang township.
Yanchuan has cooperated with a number of prestigious hospitals in Beijing on remote medical consultation. Doctors in mobile hospitals can send a patient's test results to experienced doctors via the online medical consultation system and get advice and prescriptions quickly.
"In this way, patients with complicated or serious diseases can see an experienced doctor and prevent the condition from getting worse," Guo said.
The mobile hospital visits each impoverished household in the township at least once a month to check on the conditions of patients and provide door-to-door medical services to them.
Huang Guiying, who lives in Dazhang village in Guanzhuang, has benefited from the mobile hospital. A diabetes patient for years, Huang was diagnosed with coronary heart disease by the hospital in 2017.
She then had a coronary bypass operation in Xi'an, which cost her 180,000 yuan ($26,190). Medical insurance covered most of her medical fees.
Huang lives alone. Her husband and two of her sons died years ago. Her third son works as a migrant worker outside their hometown for most of the year. As a result of complications from diabetes, Huang cannot see clearly. The mobile hospital doctors have made friends with her and frequently visit her home to check on her health.
"If it were not for the doctors and the policy covering most of my fees, I won't survive," Huang, 63, said.
Gao Xuefeng, a village doctor in Dazhang, said locals used to be reluctant to see a doctor in town, let alone travel a long way to go to a county hospital dozens of kilometers away.
The mobile hospitals have completely changed their lives. Poor villagers from registered households can receive treatment and prescription medicine offered by the mobile hospital for free.
Apart from providing regular medical services to poor households, Zhang said the mobile hospitals also offer free basic physical checks for villagers over 50 years old across the county to prevent serious illness and poverty caused by illness.