Smart Solutions

Health in the Forest App

A smartphone app that provides up-to-date information for patients on doctors’ opening hours and other health services in rural areas.

Implemented inBregenz Forest

Country : Austria

What’s the solution?

The solution is a smartphone app. It focuses on two target groups. The first is residents and patients. Secondly, the app provides services for local medical practitioners, medical trainees, and potential new medical practitioners.

Local patients receive up-to-date information on

  • Opening/consultation hours of all surgeries in the area – the information is updated every 5 minutes
  • Weekend services
  • Emergency services (emergency call, access to the nearest heart defibrillator, …)
  • Current health information (covid regulations, stroke information, …)
  • Other health services (pharmacies, therapists, …)


Professionals use the app for

  • Mutual consultation and consultation with experts
  • Providing information on training posts for interns
  • Providing information on vacant surgeries looking for a practitioner
  • Accessing practical information like telephone numbers of emergency physicians, learnings from conferences and trainings, testimonials of setting up a surgery, templates for letters etc.

What makes it smart?

The solution is smart because

  • It uses new technologies to provide easy access for users to timely information on consultation hours
  • It provides easy access to a variety of health-related information
  • It offers a platform to link practitioners/mentors and intern and thus supports the long-term development of surgeries and basic medical services

How is the solution implemented?

  • Check if similar solutions are already working
  • Set up a core group of practitioners and developers to lead the project.
  • Ask how potential users define their needs and demands – including both local medical practitioners and patients
  • Engage with local health authorities to agree and organize the sharing of the latest up-to-date information and data through the app
  • Develop and test the app.
  • Communicate the app to all medical services in the area and, through them, reach out to users
  • Make sure to provide the latest up-to-date information

In what local context has it been applied?

The area covered by the app consists of 22 villages, the largest counting about 3 000 inhabitants.

Spread across the region, 15 surgeries provide basic medical services to their patients. Compared to other areas, this is still a very good level. However, consultation hours vary, so that patients had to look up each website to find out where to go, when they had a problem.

It is about 30 km to the nearest hospital. Hence, local practitioners are emergency physicians and palliative doctors as well.

While the network of surgeries is currently strong, the practitioners in charge face the long-term challenge to find successors. Before this app started, no central campaign to attract medical trainees and potential successors had been conceived.

Who was behind the implementation?

The driving force behind the app was an individual doctor, Dr Rudolf Rüscher who lives and works in the Bregenz Forest area. He worked together with a core group to develop and roll out the app. This group comprised:

  • Five additional medical practitioners of the area
  • One app developer known personally to the lead doctor
  • The advertising agency ‘Via3’

What was the local journey?

  • Visiting a congress for trainee doctors in 2016, Dr Rüscher realised that a central campaign to attract interns to become practitioners was missing. At this congress, a campaign for hospital doctors was shown. However, it was clear to him that the issue of succession in rural surgeries was looming.
  • Dr Rüscher first thought of a marketing campaign to attract young doctors and show them the benefits of being a practitioner in rural areas.
  • He started an idea generation process with an advertising agency he knew through his family called Via3.
  • As app development was a topical issue, this process created the vision of a smartphone app. This app would aim to show interns and medical students how the system of surgeries and practitioners works in Bregenz Forest. Furthermore, the app would be designed to attract doctors who wanted to succeed retiring practitioners by offering information on vacant surgeries, testimonials etc.
  • At the same time, the Austrian legislator improved the legal basis for practitioners to become mentors.
  • Dr Rüscher asked a friend, who is a developer, if he could set up the app.
  • A core group was founded to steer the project, including five additional medics in the area as well as the developer and the advertising agency.
  • Having started the app to target doctors and interns, a second section was defined and developed: a public section for all residents and patients.
  • The medical association of the province agreed to provide access to their central duty-roster system to access up-to-date consultation hours (updated every 5 minutes). This is a critical success factor for the app since this information was otherwise not publicly available. All surgeries hand in their daily availabilities to the medical association in the province. The app is then able to access this information and provide it to patients.
  • Since going live, the same core group oversees further developing the app and collecting feedback from all other practitioners in the area.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The app successfully provides users with practical information about available medical services in the region as well as providing key up-to-date information to users on important issues like covid vaccination dates, current covid restrictions or rules…
  • Since 2018, about 70 % of all smartphone users in the area use the app.
  • The app registers approximately 1000 clicks per week – mainly the younger generations use the app.
  • The most read section is the one for current consultation hours and emergency services. Second most read is the section on weekend services, followed by the section on pharmacies.
  • Approximately 100 doctors have registered for the internal doctors’ section.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • Residents of the region are provided with improved and facilitated access to basic medical services making it a safer and more attractive place to live and work.
  • The solution provides a platform to connect general practitioners with each other to exchange and learn and also link practitioners with hospital doctors – this can help to sustain basic medical services in the region, e.g. sharing the latest information and knowledge, or when hospital doctors can opt to help out one day a week in surgeries.
  • The solution also supports the long-term development and sustainability of the basic medical services and surgeries in the rural area by linking trainees with potential training posts and mentors in the region.
  • More generally, the solution also serves to draw attention to the issue of basic medical services and its long-term development in the region, increasing the likelihood that rural services are maintained.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:

Set up / Investment costs: EUR 45 000 - initial costs include app development, licenses, hosting/server.

Not included are costs for design and layout and the input from the doctors involved – including the main project instigator - which were provided voluntarily.

Ongoing costs: EUR 7 000 per year - costs of license, further development, support, hosting, service of data.

Financial needs:
Funding received:
Public Health Insurance and medical association25,000 €Set-up
Private contributions (from local banks, insurance companies, local doctors and other private sponsors )20,000 €Set-up
Sponsoring and local doctors’ contributions7,000 €Ongoing development and maintenance

Human resources

· An app developer

· Engaged local doctors

Physical resources

The app supports and links with existing medical services in the region.

What to do…

  • Start with a small number of features
  • Be aware that this project might not provide any financial surplus
  • Make sure that information provided is really up-to-date. Many apps fails because they provide out of date information.

and not to do

  • Make sure not to provide out of date or inaccurate information on opening hours etc which will undermine confidence in the app.

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