We are living in an era in which we benefit from significant health advances. Quality of care has improved even in just the last few decades. However, it’s important to understand that not everyone enjoys the use of such advantages equally.
One of the challenges many citizens across the planet experience is the presence of healthcare deserts. Millions of patients find that they’re not able to maintain a positive quality of life because they are unable to utilize sufficient healthcare resources. This may include limited access to doctors, pharmacies, and other forms of care. Some deserts arise due to hospital closures. Others are the result of a lack of investment in low-income areas.
The road to equal access is unlikely to be an easy one. However, part of the solution may be to utilize smart technology to address the immediate challenges. Let’s take a closer look at how smart cities could combat healthcare deserts.
Part of the challenge of healthcare deserts isn’t simply that they don’t have sufficient facilities and professionals. It’s also in understanding what patients’ ongoing needs are so that the administrations can allocate the most appropriate resources. Adding to this difficulty is the tendency for needs to change and develop over time.
To some extent, the populations in rural and urban areas face different health and wellness concerns than one another. For instance, rural citizens can experience higher instances of obesity due to a lack of nutritional education compared to their urban counterparts. On the other hand, those living in city areas can be more likely to exhibit risk-taking behavior related to alcohol consumption. However, without an accurate understanding of the more nuanced needs of healthcare deserts, these communities can find it hard to get the resources they need.
This is where the tools of smart cities can make a tangible difference. Integrated collection and analysis of patient data can monitor and report on the real-time challenges of communities. This is helpful not just for serving the demands for certain types of healthcare services. It also gives insights into the common lifestyles and behavior of citizens. Importantly, artificial intelligence (AI) platforms built into these systems can help to predict short and long-term changes in resource needs. This allows public health officials to more effectively address resource allocation in healthcare deserts.
One of the priorities for any healthcare desert is improving access to services for citizens. Certainly, the goal should be to ensure all communities have equal access to treatment. However, this isn’t always practical in reality. As such, the tools of smart cities can be instrumental in bridging the access gap.
Among the common components of smart city medical care is the rise in telehealth services. This doesn’t just involve giving patients access to virtual appointments. Rather, smart city infrastructure supports the use of remote health monitoring devices in the internet of medical things (IoMT). Areas with strong 4G and 5G network access enable patients to provide real-time data on vital signs and symptoms using both specialist tech and their own mobile devices. This can be a vital tool for healthcare deserts in which patients don’t have the opportunity to use specialist services easily.
Another way in which smart city infrastructure can combat healthcare deserts is through transportation. At the moment, AI-driven route planning software can provide ambulances and patient transport services with more efficient ways to reach patients. This minimizes the pressure on a region’s limited emergency vehicle resources. However, in the near future, automated transportation could play a role in ensuring patients in distant areas have the means to reach appointments without the need to invest in drivers.
A core component of navigating the issue of healthcare deserts is focusing on preventative measures. This is why smart cities’ potential for improving quality of life can be so vital for these communities. When citizens utilize technology to support a healthier lifestyle, this helps to minimize medical issues for individuals as well as reduce pressure on existing health services.
In a more general sense, the tech of smart cities can improve the environmental conditions of healthcare deserts. More efficient traffic control systems, electric vehicle infrastructure, and energy-efficient building operations can all reduce harmful emissions. This, in turn, can improve the air quality which has a significant effect on both mental and physical health.
Smart cities can also lead to improvements in public safety. Smart surveillance systems and predictive policing may help to combat incidents of violent crime. Not to mention that smart intersections that monitor and analyze traffic can detect risks and minimize potential accidents. These tools can play a role in a long-term reduction of pressure on emergency and rehabilitative services in healthcare deserts.
The technology that features in smart cities can help address the issue of healthcare deserts. Smart data collection and analysis can predict developments in healthcare needs so officials can more effectively allocate resources. Remote patient monitoring and smart transportation systems could boost access to patients in areas with limited facilities. The overall improvements in quality of life supported by smart city infrastructure may also reduce pressure on strained health resources. While equal access should be the goal of all public health services, smart city tools can play a role in mitigating the impact of care deserts.