STORY INLINE POST
In 2020, the entire world experienced a year full of challenges that brought consequences for the health sector in 2021, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown of millions of people, but also in the care and follow-up of treatments through technology.
In Mexico, like in many other countries, there was an accelerated transformation in the sector to overcome “technological gaps” and provide patients with the care they deserve. From my perspective, these are the three challenges faced by the health sector since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Digitalization of the Health Sector
In Latin America, according to data from CEPAL, as of the application of the first sanitary measures, evidence began to amass that highlights the importance of digital technologies to counteract isolation, spread prophylactic measures and facilitate the operation of economic systems.
The relative success in the control and mitigation of COVID-19 in some countries within the region was explained by the use of mobile apps and information systems supported on digital technologies.
The challenge is to achieve the democratization of health services through technology, and thanks to that, provide the entire population with equal access to health services. Only thus can we achieve a true transformation of the sector that impacts the patients’ experience, with increased certainty of their diagnosis and treatment as healthcare providers improve their services in profitable business schemes.
Technology Adoption Among Patients
According to the 17th Study on Internet Users Habits in Mexico, carried out by the MX Internet Association (AIMX), by 2020, there were 84.1 million web surfers in the country, which represents 72 percent of the population aged 6 and older. During the last year, as a result of the lockdown, web surfers had the largest growth rate observed in the last five years.
As to the number of digital-based patients, they also experienced major growth. At a webinar on digital perspectives organized by Doctoralia in October of last year, Adrian Olaya, senior manager of Comscore Latam, not only pointed out this increase, but also the growth in the age ranges of digital patients: those between ages 45 and 56 experienced major growth, while those aged between 55 and 64 were in the 12 to 20 percent range.
This evinces that the lockdown challenged patients of all ages to focus their habits on digitization, increasing their internet searches on health topics, online drug purchasing, and communicating with professionals through channels other than one-on-one, such as social networks, health platforms and apps, which is leading to greater trust in virtual communications between doctors and patients.
In fact, health professionals also had to evolve in their digital habits and, according to the First Study on Digital Habits of the Medical Community in Mexico, held by the AIMX in 2021, the penetration of doctors connected to the internet in our country is 84 percent.
Thus, doctors and patients are adapting to the new reality that comes hand in hand with a digital transformation.
Lack of Internet Capacity Limits Reach of Online Consultations
Due to the growing number of digital patients, people offering health services had to speed up their response time and enable their technologies to attend to the population requiring support, not only for COVID-19, but for other treatments as well. This brought forward online consultations and an endless number of digital tools; nevertheless, the gap in internet coverage must be breached so 100 percent of the population can access the service, and with it, remote healthcare.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), in 2020, the urban population using the internet was 78.3 percent, while in rural zones, it was only 50.4 percent, which evinces the need to expand the coverage.
An effort is required, not only from the private sector but also from the public sector, to breach these gaps and offer the entire population the opportunity to receive medical attention. Digitalization offers great opportunities to achieve this goal. Patients living in zones far from the greater cities and with no nearby specialists to treat their conditions have found in online consultations the solution to shorten distances. Virtual medicine is a reality today, we just need to make it available to everyone.
No doubt these challenges faced by the health sector from the onset of the pandemic have been complex. The good news is that we are on the right path, and today they are a reality that is here to stay.