The Impact of COVID-19 on Healthcare in Mexico

The pandemic has brought us several lessons and among the more prominent ones have been new ways of working, learning, communicating and doing business. Healthcare has also been affected by the winds of change as telemedicine has gained ground: it has emerged as a new way of providing primary care and following up with patients that receive prolonged treatments for chronic or long-term illnesses.

As such, over the past 18 months telemedicine grew at a level that otherwise would have taken it 10 years to achieve, becoming an impressive breakthrough that has positively impacted the lives of patients and doctors. However, there are still significant challenges directly related to technological access and, above all, connectivity, which are crucial to make this service universal. In Mexico, while it’s true that telemedicine service is driven not just by the government (via the Health Secretariat) but also by the National Center for Technological Excellence in Health (or CENETEC, as per its Spanish-language acronym), overall, telemedicine is still taking its first steps in the country. The keys to telemedicine working effectively are data accessibility and the ability to offer quality service regardless of where the doctor and patient are located.

This involves having a very robust IT system and security features that will protect the data of the patient, the doctor and the institution, i.e., the clinic or hospital, yet still allow for the retrieval of necessary information when appointments and follow-up treatments take place. When it comes to managing medical histories of patients, data access should be provided in a comprehensive way to make it easy for both the doctor and the patient to access the information.

The use of electronic prescriptions, which is still not very well developed in Mexico and offers great potential, is another of the advances that have been spreading across Latin America. The use of digital support for these types of documents, given their legal importance, is exponentially speeding up the connections between pharmacies and doctors, which in turn provides the patient with a fast solution that takes only minutes. This is particularly important in cases in which the participants (doctors and patients) are located in different areas.

Given that Mexico is a large country with a big population and limited professional resources, IT infrastructure offers a beneficial opportunity and, along with telemedicine, can deliver a solution for the lack of available treatment in different areas around the country. While primary care has grown, there has also been an increase of more than 8% in the use of short-stay beds—and huge jump considering that historically, short-stay bed use has only grown by 1-2% per year. This phenomenon is a clear lesson—courtesy of COVID-19—with regard the medical interaction between patients and the institutions.

During the peak infection periods of the pandemic, patients in Mexico decided to reduce doctor visits, partially out of fear and partially due to recommendations by health authorities. This has led them to have a different relationship with healthcare and treat the highly urgent matters in the moment they need to be treated. Today, healthcare and timely diagnoses are driving a reduction in the misuse of beds for elective procedures, allowing more space for necessary procedures. In addition, there has also been an increase in robotic surgery for minimally invasive surgeries, which considerably reduce recovery time for patients and, in turn, shorten their hospital/clinic stays.

The effects of the pandemic have been devastating economically, educationally, politically and emotionally. We have had to reinvent ourselves and work around adversity to come out ahead. Latin American countries have been among the hardest hit in the world by COVID and we still have much work to do in order to fully recover. However, we’ve learned important lessons that have forged the way for implementing technology in places where it would have been unthinkable a few months back. Healthcare and education were the sectors that were most transformed by the effects of the pandemic, and we should treat this transformation as the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, healthcare in particular is a topic that is being discussed in several international forums, such as the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO); last month Carissa F. Etienne, the PAHO’s director, brought to light the urgency of the need to invest in strengthening healthcare systems and in the production of healthcare technologies. Etienne emphasized LAC’s need to become self-sufficient in this area.

We’re now at a tipping point that requires active participation from all the involved healthcare stakeholders to drive development in the region. There is a new way of doing things that is here to stay and it’s necessary for business to organically complement these new ways of doing things by educating professionals, offering universe access to basic healthcare services and, above all, by investing in technology.

That is why we at Global Health Intelligence continually drive the development and implementation of new technologies through our communications channels, which we use to share reports and points of view regarding the technological transformation that is emerging throughout the region. We also strive to work with companies that invest in cutting-edge technology that connect data with the stakeholders that make decisions in Latin America’s healthcare market. Since 2014 our commitment has allowed us to establish different partnerships with key players to generate valuable information to help with decision making.

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