Digital solutions to increase access to public services (SDG 10)  

SDG 10 sets the goal to reduce inequalities both within and between countries. Nordregio’s second webinar focused on the first of these aspects. Discussions during the webinar revolved around inequalities in access to public services between rural and urban areas in the Nordic Region. Keynote speakers and participants discussed how digital tools and solutions may contribute towards reducing some of the existing gaps, for instance, by increasing access to healthcare and improving mobility. Challenges in the digitalisation process were identified, such as a lack of digital infrastructure, and possible steps forward with digital solutions were highlighted. Reducing inequalities is not only a core goal of the 2030 Agenda but is also a key element of ‘Our Vision 2030’. One of the priority areas in this key document is to achieve a socially sustainable Nordic Region that is equal and interconnected.

For the full report about the webinar series, read Nordregio's "Agenda 2030: How to reach the goals and measure success at the local level" publication.

How can digital solutions improve access to healthcare services in sparsely populated areas?

Region Västerbotten (SE) – ca. 273,000 inhabitants

In Sweden, regions and municipalities share responsibility to provide healthcare and social care services to the population. While the 21 regions are responsible for general healthcare planning and organisation, the municipalities provide elderly care and care for people with disabilities. In the region of Västerbotten, the regional and local authorities are collaborating closely to improve access to healthcare services in small and sparsely populated communities. The Centre for Rural Medicine, founded in 2014, is a part of this collaboration. The Centre is a research and development unit within Region Västerbotten and is located in the municipality of Storuman. Its work focuses on promoting good quality health and social care in rural areas. The Centre also focuses on health care services directed to the Sami population, as well as education and recruitment of healthcare staff.

Many projects conducted by the Centre for Rural Medicine are done in collaboration with local authorities, universities and private companies, and deal with how to bridge long distances using different types of digital tools and telemedicine. This topic is of particular relevance for the region of Västerbotten, since it is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe and experiences challenges in upholding physical healthcare facilities across the region.

The distance challenge: One example of how digital tools are used to provide healthcare in Västerbotten is the introduction of virtual health rooms. Such rooms allow patients to book remote consultations with healthcare specialists that are located elsewhere in the region or in other parts of Sweden. The virtual rooms are also equipped with digital tools that make it possible to measure blood pressure, blood glucose levels and similar health indicators. The results of these measurements can directly be stored in a database which is monitored by a doctor or nurse. The first virtual health room was opened in the village of Slussfors within Storuman municipality and is located 60 km from to the closest healthcare centre. Overall, the virtual health room combines two advantages: it brings healthcare closer to people in sparsely populated communities and reduces the need to travel.

The Centre for Rural Medicine has also recently participated in a Nordic research project on healthcare and care through distance-spanning solutions. One of the goals of this project was to map good solutions and practices in the Nordic countries and support regions and municipalities in implementing them. Amongst others, the project identified a roadmap that has frequently been used in Norway. The roadmap describes how to successfully implement distance-spanning health and social care solutions in six steps. It is now used in several municipalities in Västerbotten to implement digital solutions, such as home monitoring devices in elderly care.

Further reading: 

How can digital solutions enhance mobility in rural areas?

Vejle (DK) – ca. 117,000 inhabitants

Around half of the municipality’s population live in the town of Vejle, and the rest reside in the more rural surroundings of the town. As in many other sparsely populated areas in the Nordic Region, public transport options in the rural parts of Vejle municipality are limited and difficult to uphold. In 2017, the municipality decided to address this challenge and enhance mobility options in its rural areas through digital solutions. Vejle therefore became a part of the European MAMBA project (Maximised Mobility and Accessibility of Services in Regions Affected by Demographic Change, October 2017-September 2020). The project focused on maximising mobility and accessibility of services in rural regions. It was funded by the European Union Baltic Sea Region Programme and included 15 partners from six countries located around the Baltic Sea. As part of the MAMBA project, Vejle received funding for a pilot project in the village of Smidstrup-Skærup. 

The pilot project co-financed the development of the app NaboGO in a collaboration between Vejle municipality, the mobility start-up NaboGO and the transport company Sydtrafik. The NaboGO app is a carpooling service. The goal behind the app is to encourage people to share car rides if they drive from rural areas to nearby towns and cities. Car owners can register in the app if they plan trips or regular commutes to nearby urban areas such as Kolding or Odense and are willing to offer other people in their community a ride. People who do not own a car can use the app to search for rides to their destination of choice. Drivers can pick up passengers at meeting places that are located around the village area of Smidstrup-Skærup and in the nearby cities. The NaboGO app does not only connect drivers and potential fellow passengers, it also allows people to see how their shared car ride can be combined with other public transport options such as bus or train rides. As a result, people can plan their entire trip from home to their final destination, combining different modes of transportation. Drivers get a small compensation for sharing their car ride, based on a fixed rate per kilometre, and payments are made through the app.

The challenge to attract users: After a first successful pilot project in Smidstrup-Skærup, the app is now available in 25 municipalities in Denmark and Sweden, with plans to introduce it in other Nordic countries and the Benelux countries. NaboGO depends on people’s willingness to sign in on the app and share their rides. To anchor the app in local contexts and achieve widespread use, NaboGO always establishes close partnerships with municipal and regional authorities, public transport providers, the educational sector, as well as village communities and companies. These partners help to inform the population about the new opportunity to commute and travel together.

The long-term goal of NaboGO is to create better mobility offers in rural areas, make it more attractive to live there and reduce CO2 emissions from car use. NaboGO also aims to reduce traffic congestion in urban areas and to supplement public transport.

Further reading: