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News Article

Technology, Digitalization: The Challenges of Integration

By Antonio Gozain | Thu, 09/09/2021 - 15:18

The digital transformation in healthcare is reshaping interactions between patients and health professionals. Innovation has become crucial with actors trying to take full advantage of technology to improve their business models, have more efficient operations and explore new opportunities in the market. However, being a highly regulated industry that mainly follows traditional processes has made its digital transformation rough, agreed industry experts.

Technology penetrated Mexico faster in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the digital media usage rate across the country. But in their goal to digitalize the industry, players are undertaking isolated efforts that will not lead to a real integration of the different ecosystems, explained Jesús David Díaz Garaygordobil, CIO at CHRISTUS MUGUERZA.

“There are two key points for integration to happen in the health industry: technical aspects and public policies. For the latter, there have to be clear regulations, benefits and incentives for companies to invest their money. For the technical approach, we need interoperability standards,” said Díaz.

Interoperability standardization allows different data systems, devices and systems to access, exchange, integrate and cooperatively use information while breaking organizational, regional and even national boundaries. If some players, such as insurance companies, do not have access to the information of other players like hospitals and vice versa, digitalization will not reach its biggest potential, according to Díaz.

While full integration looks complex, companies form the health industry are already taking advantage of the technology. “Digitalization helps us reducing time and costs. The pandemic reshaped internal workflows and optimized some processes, made them less bureaucratic, helping us stick better to schedules,” said Carlos Flores, Chief Innovation Officer at Nadro.

Integration of health ecosystems will bring benefits to everyone involved, including the government, public institutions, private sector and ultimately, the patient, who is the “guiding thread” of the industry, according to Díaz. Insurance companies, for instance, continue expanding their services thanks to technology advances. “Insurance companies are trying to integrate more services besides the insurance itself. Services that allow us to know our client, the patient, better and give them the best possible attention,” said Héctor Sobrino, Director of Health Services and Transformation of AXA/Keralty. Insurance companies have implemented primary attention clinics to promote healthcare to their clients. Technology played a key role during the pandemic by allowing thousands of telemedicine consultations, according to Sobrino.

As digitalization continues moving forward, more challenges appear. Telemedicine has helped thousands have access to doctors more efficiently. However, virtual consultation still lack regulations for good practices. Furthermore, the sector lacks regulation for digital prescriptions, which the doctor’s services and pharmacies. “Until mid-2018, regulation foresaw only the use of a hand-written signature for prescriptions. That year, the Ministry of Health amended the applicable regulation for medical services (mainly the Secondary Regulations for Health Services) to recognize a digital or electronic signature for prescriptions. It was great news. Unfortunately, it did not solve the problem, as the regulation for pharmacies (mainly the Secondary Regulations for Medical Products and the Supplement for Establishments of the Mexican Pharmacopeia) remained the same. Many pharmacies did not recognize electronic prescriptions because the regulation applicable to them still required a hand-written signature and they feared a sanction from the regulator if they deviate,” wrote Christian López-Silva, Partner- Healthcare and Life Sciences at Baker McKenzie, and Carlos Vela, Partner-Head of Technology, Media and Telecomm at Baker McKenzie, on MBN.

E-prescriptions could boost the entire telemedicine business model and benefit patients, who will be able to have consultations with doctors form different cities and even receive their medications at home. Physicians will be able to monitor how treatments are working and have immediate communication with their patients, according to Flores. “E-prescriptions would be very helpful, much more now with the pandemic. Regulations are not clear enough, not all medications are covered by the law. Under clear regulation, a patient could have a quality telemedicine consultation, prescription and medicines delivered home within very few hours.”

Health System First

Mexico’s health system is very complex and faces all kinds of challenges. While technology can help it solve some of them, first actions must be taken to address coverage, supply, the democratization of health and prevention. “It is not only about implementing technology. We need cultural changes implemented through an integral campaign that promotes health prevention. Mexicans tend to notice the importance of health only when they are sick, it is important to take care early and prevent diseases,” said Sobrino.

With the patient being the “guiding thread” uniting the different sectors inside the industry, a fully-integrated ecosystem is achievable, according to Díaz. Technology implementation will lead to a democratization of health and “more social justice.” For the private sector standpoint, technology allows different stakeholders to access more information immediately.

“As stakeholders we have to become a bridge between regulatory institutions, such as the Ministry of Health and its regulatory arms. We need to keep working to overcome problems, such as the e-prescriptions. Mexico is in the correct path; it has the stakeholders and opportunities and it is just a matter of reaching agreements and working together,” said Díaz.

Antonio Gozain Antonio Gozain Journalist and Industry Analyst