Western countries are facing the challenges of an imminent shortage of physicians, especially general practitioners. As a consequence longer travel times to doctors’ practices may arise. This study aimed to investigate the mobility behavior of a rural population in terms of medical consultations.
An exploratory mixed-methods design was conducted in the Waldshut district of the federal state Baden-Württemberg in Germany. Focus groups and a single telephone-interview with representatives, occupationally affiliated with mobility in the district (e.g. representatives of public transport, nursing-services or the District Office Waldshut), were performed in 2016 and analyzed using Mayring’s structuring content analysis. A questionnaire based on the collected qualitative data was subsequently distributed to a random sample of 1000 adult inhabitants living in the Waldshut district. Quantitative data were analyzed employing descriptive statistics.
Qualitatively, four focus groups and one single telephone-interview with a total of 20 participants were performed. Therein the necessity of reaching a nearby general practitioner and the importance of individual motor traffic was emphasized. Novel mobility modes of ride sharing and telemedicine were controversially discussed as future transport and consultation options, respectively.
Quantitatively, 277 questionnaires (27.7%) were valid and included in our analysis. Mean age was 51 years (SD = 18.5) and 58% (n = 160) were female. Irrespective of the mode of transport 60% (n = 166) expected to reach their general practitioner within 15 min. Using the possibility of multiple answers 47% (n = 192) stated to use a car in order to reach their general practitioner, public transport was used by 5% (n = 19). Nearly 80% (n = 220) could imagine sharing a car with well-known persons for consultations. Turning to a general practitioner via telemedicine was imaginable for 32% (n = 91).
Individual motor car traffic seems to be an important factor in providing accessibility to rural medical care. As a supplementation, web based ride sharing has economic and structural potential for reaching a doctor’s practice. However, familiarity and trustworthiness need to be guaranteed within this flexible transport mode. Furthermore, telemedicine may be a future approach in order to reduce travel time to a doctor’s practice.