Telemedicine: An Area of Opportunities in Latin America

One outgrowth of the pandemic has been the development of new ways of working, and consequently, of meeting needs in different areas. In the case of health, Telehealth (TM) has been one of the big developments, which, as we have said before, has immense potential. This article presents some interesting data about different TM methods, as well as their introduction and development in Latin America.

TM has been a topic of debate in the big international health forums since 2003, and some large strides have been made since those opening conversations. However, data show that we still have a huge opportunity to develop this sector of the industry that will form part of primary health care in the near future. To point to one successful case, according to a report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Brazil’s Telessaúde Brasil program, whose goal is to offer primary health-care professionals a second opinion, using electronic consultations or electronic referrals, has demonstrated that one out of two patients offered electronic consultations does not get referred to other services. Its reports show that, on average, 60% of electronic consultations led to a change in the originally planned approach, thereby reducing costs, especially with treatment outside the home, resulting in a higher case-resolution rate.

Since 2015, at Global Health Intelligence (GHI) we have been using our proprietary HospiScope database, which gathers information about the installed base equipment in hospitals in 17 Latin American countries. HospiScope has allowed us to do a variety of analyses on the development of demographic indicators, hospital equipment, beds, clinical specialties, medical personnel, information systems, type of care, and other key areas. As a result of the pandemic, we began gathering data on TM, which we have sorted into four main categories:

  1. Participation in TM, when the hospital has a telemedicine program
  2. A TM center, when there is a dedicated center with specialists to which the hospitals can connect, such as centers of excellence in other fields
  3. Medical monitoring (spoke TM), when the hospital has a system connected to the service provided by the TM center where the specialists are located
  4. International TM, when the hospital is involved in international TM

Our analysis, which is based on the strategic data we have gathered over the years, was based on data from hospitals in 17 Latin American countries that was compiled between 2018 and 2021.

Roughly 15% of the hospitals included in our analysis have a TM program; 9% are connected to a TM center; just 6% provide that service to patients through a medical monitoring system, and 1% are part of international TM. These data remained stable between 2020 and 2021.

Analyzing the data from hospitals with a TM program, the percentage of these relative to the total amount of hospitals in the region varies between 11% and 19%, leaving a large opportunity for the development of this service. Zooming in on the most relevant data, Colombia has the most development in the service, while Chile is the only country to have made a strategic investment in infrastructure, installed capacity, and specialist telehealth personnel, distinguishing itself from the other countries in the region.

In terms of connectedness to TM centers, 38% of hospitals have this service in Colombia. However, Argentina, which comes next in the ranking, has just a 9% share, showing that there is significant opportunity for investment in this service too. The situation is similar for medical monitoring. In Colombia, 65% of hospitals have the service, followed by Chile with just 9%, then Argentina, Mexico and others, respectively with 3%.

Lastly, we see significant opportunity in terms of international TM, where the total percentage share among hospitals is 1%. Colombia leads the region in this category with 8% penetration, followed by Chile at 1%, and Argentina and Mexico, with 0%, respectively.

TM is a service that is here to stay, and the data show there is a development opportunity, in terms of both infrastructure and service, that needs attention.

Contact us to find out more how our team can conduct a market study for the Latin American country of your choice so you can gain a greater understanding of telemedicine penetration and where the strongest opportunities lie.

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