Telemedicine: Challenges, Opportunities for Healthcare AccessBy Andrea Villar | Thu, 01/28/2021 - 15:56
Telemedicine was born as an alternative to face-to-face consultations. When the pandemic hit, this model caught on and there is no doubt it is here to stay, agreed experts on Thursday, Jan. 28, during the first virtual edition of Mexico Health Summit. The challenges, however, are still many and the entire industry will have to face them for this model to grow its penetration in a safe and regulated environment.
"To reach full penetration, it is important to make an effort between all the different actors in the healthcare ecosystem," said Ricardo Moguel, Country Manager for Mexico, Colombia and Argentina of Doctoralia. According to data from the McKinsey Global Institute, Moguel quoted, in 2019, US$350 billion was invested in digital health globally and the forecast says that by 2024, more than US$600 billion will be invested annually. “There is a big bet on digitalization. Long before the pandemic, psychologists, psychiatrists and internists were the most digitized doctors. When the health crisis started, many doctors from other specialties started to ask for support in using these platforms,” Moguel noted.
Since April 2020, more than 3 million appointments have been booked through Doctoralia, the world's largest healthcare platform. In addition, 48,000 specialists have enabled the online consultation function. In Mexico, the platform has issued more than 23,000 e-prescriptions. "Patients search for doctors in different parts of the country. Also, many Mexicans in the US are looking for virtual appointments with doctors based here,” Moguel stated.
Telemedicine has helped to expand access to care at a time when patients could not visit their doctor on a regular basis. This model of medical care has proven to have great benefits, Moguel emphasized, such as reduced transportation times, lower costs compared to face-to-face appointments and the interactivity and speed with which doctors can store images and video and transfer them in real-time to other doctors. "This does not put patients at risk as they do not have to leave their homes and it also puts top specialists at their service, no matter where they are.”
But not all is rosy, said Juan Manuel Cáceres, CEO of Aidicare. “How can patients be sure who is the person behind the screen making a diagnosis and sending out prescriptions?” he asked. Among the biggest obstacles that doctors at major hospitals in Mexico express, according to Cáceres, are a lack of tools to make a correct diagnosis, doubts about the billing process and a lack of training. Patients, meanwhile, say that one of the main obstacles to using such tools is the uncertainty of a correct diagnosis and that their doctors have not offered them this service, either.
To overcome these obstacles, panelists said regulation is necessary. "In digital healthcare, there are players from the digital world and from the healthcare world. The former has a much bigger appetite for risk. They do not mind entering the market even if the rules are not clear. On the contrary, the healthcare sector is more risk-averse," explained Christian López-Silva, Partner and Head of Healthcare & Lifesciences at Baker McKenzie.
“In Mexico, there are still legal and regulatory challenges before considering that everything is ready for telemedicine-related business models to flow,” said López-Silva. “As long as that is not resolved, the user experience will not work. There are patients who have their electronic prescription but pharmacies ask them to print it out or limit themselves to supplying medicines that do not require prescriptions,” he pointed out.
In addition to public policy, added Alessio Hagen, Director of Digital Cities for Latin America at Dell Technologies, one necessary step to increase telemedicine penetration is the development of an open and integrated platform “that includes all players in the ecosystem, protects the user and serves as evidence for insurers, pharmacies and doctors.” He also pointed out that Mexico still faces serious connectivity problems in rural areas where it is very difficult to deploy this model.