Héctor Valle
Executive President
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Health Democratization Will be Tech-Based: Funsalud

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 08/01/2022 - 10:03

Q: How does the recently created Council for the Promotion of New Technologies support your commitment to improve the health sector?

A: Funsalud is divided into several promoter councils, each of them with independent strategies that help close access gaps in healthcare. Our councils include Health Attention Quality, Health Universality and Competitiveness, Food and Healthy Habits and Mental Health and Wellness. The Promotion of New Technologies Council aims to analyze existing technologies in healthcare to support their implementation in Mexico and promote health access. The council has identified 10 different technologies reshaping the global health sector and is working to implement them in Mexico. These technologies are digital health, telemedicine, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain, robotics, drones, 3D printing and genomics.

The council is supporting the Digital Health Law, which is being discussed by the Chamber of Deputies. Its implementation would provide certainty and support the development of digital health solutions in the country.

Q: How does Funsalud measure the penetration of tech in the healthcare sector?

A: Funsalud is working on the “Digital Doctor” project to evaluate how doctors coexist with digitalization and adapt it into their practices, from the apps they use to provide care to the websites they search for guidance. We wish to see the doctor’s perspective to understand how digital health is permeating the sector and whether they are adapting it into their medical practice. This way, we can provide them with the best tools according to their needs.

Funsalud is performing a national study of 15 medical specializations to observe the specific conditions health professionals face in different geographies. The council is also proactively working with the public sector. For example, we are working with the National Cardiology Institute and the government of Chiapas to support telemedicine adoption to effectively and quickly provide attention to patients in need. Similarly, we have a project with the government of Veracruz to use text messages to remind diabetic patients when it is time to take their treatments. The goal is to improve treatment adherence. A similar project was implemented with the Ministry of Health and the Inter-American Development Bank. After its positive results in treatment adherence, we expanded the project to Veracruz and hope to take it to other states in the near future.

Q: Why is it important for Funsalud to form alliances with state governments?

A: Funsalud works closely with some states to develop their government health programs. For example, we are working with the governments of Chihuahua, Baja California Sur, Aguascalientes and Tlaxcala, supporting them in the development and continuity of their health programs.

Historically, after a change in administration, Funsalud provides the entering President and Minister of Health a document outlining the priorities of the national health sector. This time, we are not limiting ourselves to the federal government; the next document will also include recommendations for each state. These documents had a positive reception and have been used as the basis for governments to establish their health programs.

Q: As the sector recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, how is Funsalud contributing to closing care gaps for non-communicable diseases (NCDs)?

A: Funsalud is aware of the country’s gaps in access to healthcare services, which is caused by underinvestment in the sector. First, the underinvestment is limiting the number of health professionals and specialists and restricting their availability outside of metropolitan areas. For example, Mexico has around 850 endocrinologists, a significantly low number considering that about 12-14 percent of the population suffers from diabetes. These specialists are mainly based in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, so patients living outside those cities will have to travel to them, spending money, time and comfort, to get medical attention from a specialist. Second, poor investment translates into limited infrastructure, which also forces patients to search for medical care at hospitals far away from home. Finally, access to medicines and medical devices is limited.

We created Código Cancer after considering these barriers and the urgency and magnitude of the disease burden in Mexico. Cancer is a time-sensitive problem that quickly becomes deadly, hurting both patients and the entire health system. With time being of the essence, Código Cancer identifies the healthcare gaps each type of cancer patient faces. For example, we have studied over 3,000 lung cancer patients alongside the National Cancer Institute to understand their journey from diagnosis to treatment. As we contextualize the process, we will have more tools to close access gaps.

Q: IMSS-Bienestar was recently named the new universal provider for those without social security. What do you expect from this initiative?

A: The Mexican health system is divided into many providers: IMSS, ISSSTE, PEMEX, SEDENA, SEMAR and now INSABI. This division generates inefficiencies within the system. At Funsalud, we believe that a system with fewer divisions could have better results and be more cost-effective. Conceptually, we would like to move toward a more integrated system but there is much work to be done to achieve this goal.

Funsalud was always in favor of Seguro Popular. While it had its flaws, it followed a clear plan that provided many benefits to those who lacked social security. Rather than papering the institute, we would have liked to see modifications that could improve it. Nevertheless, Funsalud will always support the government’s model to achieve universal healthcare and close access gaps. At the end of the day, we are both working toward the same goal.

Q: For its universal health project, the government is hiring doctors for Mexico’s rural zones. How can this effort fix Mexico’s historic lack of professionals?

A: Mexico has specialists in areas where demand is decreasing and lacks specialists for diseases growing in prevalence. For example, the country has few geriatricians, psychiatrists, oncologists and cardiologists but has an excess of pediatricians while births are decreasing. With this in mind, Mexico should be training more doctors in the necessary specialties.

The second problem is a matter of social development. Doctors in Mexico prefer to stay in Mexico City over moving to a narco-dominated state or town. We need to keep in mind that just like any other professional, doctors are looking for personal and professional development and opportunities in cities align better with those desires. Unfortunately, not many states in Mexico offer these opportunities. Furthermore, about 80 percent of a doctor’s income is acquired through private practice.

Nevertheless, it is possible to democratize healthcare and get specialists closer to patients in need through technology, which can connect patients from all parts of the country without the need for extensive transportation.

Q: What is your outlook on the potential use of the metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in healthcare?

A: The two subjects are moving at different speeds. Developers are using the metaverse to support different areas of healthcare, such as education, care provision, training and awareness. These tools are already a reality and have the potential to continue growing.

NFTs are advancing at a slower pace, with some developers exploring their use in areas like medicine traceability. Funsalud is working to introduce them into the sector. For example, our ranking of Mexican hospitals awards winners with an NFT.

 

The Mexican Foundation for Health (Funsalud) is a civil, autonomous, nonprofit association made up of business leaders from various economic branches linked to healthcare. It aims to contribute to the scientific and technological strengthening of health matters by promoting research, training and technological development.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst