Telemedicine Could Narrow Mexico’s Healthcare Access Gap
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Telemedicine Could Narrow Mexico’s Healthcare Access Gap

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Antonio Gozain By Antonio Gozain | Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst - Wed, 02/15/2023 - 15:28

Telemedicine has been growing in Mexico, especially after the pandemic, due to its impact on patients, physicians and the healthcare system. It is allowing hospitals to increase accessibility, improve services and reduce waiting times for both patients and health professionals, narrowing the country’s healthcare access gap. Its implementation is bringing to light both opportunities and challenges within the Mexican healthcare system.

"Mexico faces a significant healthcare access gap due to three decades of underinvestment in the sector. When patients seek care, the healthcare system may fail them due to issues such as inadequate infrastructure, insufficient personnel or lack of medicines. Specialists may not be able to reach remote areas of the country, and doctors require security, quality of life and adequate compensation to work in those regions. However, technology can help connect Mexicans with specialists, regardless of their location. Telemedicine is a critical tool that can help narrow the healthcare access gap that exists in Mexico," says Héctor Valle, Executive President, FunSalud.

The pandemic forced healthcare systems to prioritize patient safety, and telehealth has become a popular alternative to in-person care. The shift to virtual health has brought numerous benefits for patients, medical professionals and healthcare systems. Telehealth offers patients more flexibility in their care, allowing them to adhere better to treatments and experience better health outcomes, according to Siemens.

Medical professionals benefit from telemedicine by having greater personal and professional benefits, including increased collaboration between different medical disciplines and easier follow-up with patients. Healthcare systems benefit from telehealth by expanding their patient base while reducing overall costs. Overall, telehealth has proven to be more than just a trend, says Siemens, as it has the potential to disrupt the healthcare industry.

While the pandemic boosted telemedicine adoption, its usage has decreased in the post-pandemic world, with patients and physicians returning to in-person care, says Jesús Hernández, President, Mexican HealthTech Association. “To increase telehealth adoption, a sound business model must be developed based on a clear understanding of its benefits. Aligning incentives and interests of all stakeholders in the healthcare system is crucial to promote its widespread usage," says Hernández.

Guillaume Corpart, Founder and CEO, Global Health Intelligence, sees telemedicine as a double-edged sword that brings both opportunities and challenges. “Hospitals have been reluctant to invest in telehealth because they do not have clear business models to manage both channels [telemedicine and in-person care] at the same time.” Hospitals’ hesitation to advance in their telehealth strategies creates an opportunity for market disruptors and startups to grow in telemedicine services and disrupt the market, says Corpart.

The healthcare market is ripe for technological disruption as consumer dissatisfaction and rising healthcare costs reach breaking point, according to LLR Partners. To take full advantage of the coming transformation, companies must strategically align with four trends that have the potential to revolutionize healthcare: the need to focus on the consumer; service delivery outside the hospital; consumer devices, such as phones and tablets; and machine learning algorithms to “nudge” consumers toward better choices. Telemedicine and AI have vast potential for creating innovative solutions.

While the benefits of telehealth at a first level of care are clear, this technology also presents several challenges and risks, says Diego Pelz, Coordinator of Liaison and Academic Projects, Mexico City’s Ministry of Health. “The patient may not have a stable network or may not understand enough of the internet, which can greatly alter the effectiveness of the health service, and the results may end up being negative,” says Pelz. It is crucial to reinforce both technical and clinical quality to ensure a successful implementation of telemedicine, he adds.

Obstacles to the adoption of telemedicine in Mexico include limited access to technology, legal and regulatory issues, infrastructure limitations, cultural and language barriers and payment and reimbursement policies. In rural and low-income areas, several people lack access to reliable internet or mobile devices, which can make it difficult for them to participate in telemedicine consultations, says Giovanna Abramo, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Plenna.

In addition, legal and regulatory issues such as licensing requirements, reimbursement policies, and liability concerns must be addressed to ensure that telemedicine services are provided in a safe and effective manner. "It is important to expedite the regulatory process for telemedicine. International telehealth guidelines could provide great help. Also, we must address interoperability to ensure that telemedicine solutions can effectively integrate with existing healthcare systems,” says Pelz.

Telemedicine Could Reduce Women’s Healthcare Access Gap

Telemedicine has the potential to narrow the overall healthcare access gap that exists in the country, especially the one faced by women, says Cristina Campero, Executive Director, Prosperia.

Women in rural or low-income areas may have limited access to healthcare services due to a lack of resources or infrastructure, which can result in delays in diagnosis and treatment. In addition, women may face taboo situations and cultural stigmas that prevent them from seeking care for certain health issues. In certain communities, discussing sexual and reproductive health may be considered inappropriate or shameful. These barriers to healthcare access can result in significant health disparities for women in Mexico, which can impact their overall well-being and quality of life.

"Telemedicine has the potential to greatly benefit populations living in rural or underserved communities with limited access to healthcare services. It also has the potential to address gender disparities in healthcare, including taboo issues in women's health. Women may face limited time or discomfort discussing certain issues, which can have a significant impact on their quality of life in Mexico," says Campero.

Photo by:   MBP

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