No Predictions II: The Reality of eHealth in Latin America

A look at what's really going on in eHealth and healthcare IT in Latin America.

The global healthcare industry is in the midst of a key moment in terms of the adoption of information and communications technologies. The market demands integrated solutions to automate processes, reduce costs and improve the quality of care.

In Latin America, we’re inundated with predications as to where the industry is headed. As we did recently with M2M technologies, we decided to take a look at what is really happening in eHealth in the region.

To provide some context, the report Touching Lives Through Mobile Health, conducted by PwC for the GSMA in 2012, predicts that the mobile health business will be worth US$23 billion by 2017, Latin America accounting for US$1.6 billion of that amount.

We reached out to Mario Luis Chao, Partner at Everis, which was named by Frost & Sullivan as the Company of the Year for 2014 in the Health IT Sector in Latin America. It was recognized for the performance of ehCOS, its electronic medical records product with specialized process analysis services based on Lean-healthcare.

Clarisa Herrera: You’ve been honored by Frost & Sullivan for your work in health IT. What is your take on the Latin American market in terms of the level of the players involved and the industry’s maturity?  

Mario Luis Chao: What they evaluated were companies that are performing efficiently on a regional level. There are a number of companies that are doing very well, but they’re in specific markets. What is being awarded here is the company with a portfolio of products and services that can be offered on a regional level. The success we’re experiencing is a combination of products and services. What’s in the market are companies that have a business or software solution that addresses the medical records question, but only part of it. To solve the problem completely, you have to have a good product and good practices in business consulting and systems integration. I think that’s the key to our leadership. The ehCOS software doesn’t just solve the medical records problem but also handles process analysis, implementation, management, etc.

CH: What’s the target of these types of solutions? How involved are governments? 

MLC: Private clinics as well as insurers and health ministries are areas where we have services to offer. In our case, solutions aren’t just geared toward medical records. There is another product, for example, that we’ve developed for Chile’s health ministry using our technology. What it does is monitor populations with certain pathologies, such as obesity, addictions – things that are closely tied to public policy.

CH: Are the governments or health programs in the region moving in the right direction in terms of modernizing their services? 

MLC: All of the countries in our region need to implement computerization in the health sector. This comes out of the information included in medical records. In Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico, there are initiatives seeking to include in local legislation legal instruments that force the health sector to digitalize. For example, an article in a health law (in the case of Colombia), specific norms to drive electronic medical records (like in Argentina and Peru). The context is very good for these types of solutions.

CH: Do you have numbers to better understand the regional context?  

MLC: Governments in the 21st century understand that their health systems need to become electronic, but there’s a long path ahead for penetration rates to reach what they are in Europe and the United States. There is no official data in terms of digital medical record availability in Latin America, but I’d say that we’re under 20% without a doubt, including both public and private sectors.

CH: We’re experiencing a boom in early-stage businesses developing applications and products for eHealth. Why do you think that is? 

MLC: I agree with that diagnostic. There is a boom in the eHealth world, conditioned by two factors. On the one hand, what we were discussing earlier: the health sector is about 10, 15 years behind other industries in digitalizing its processes (if we compare it with banks, hotels). This makes the niche attractive for businesses. The other major factor is the confluence of technologies that start to mature and enter the market, which has to do with mobile technologies, the Internet of Things, devices that we can use on our clothes, portable items that allow for measurements, biological information on a patient you couldn’t get years ago. The confluence of mobile devices, ICTs and the imminent need of the health sector to computerize generates a blossoming of technological innovation for the sector.

CH: What innovations can we expect? 

MLC: In our case, we will continue to improve our ehCOS product with two new versions, one tied to patient connectivity (social health) that will allow patients to communicate with one another and with professionals. In social health, there is a lot of space for development that we’ll be working on this year. There are other developments that are more medium-term, which are tied to personalized medicine. Personalized medicine won’t just be based on scientific knowledge but on the particular characteristics of a patient. We’ll enter into the world of genetics and genomics, how understanding a patient’s particular characteristics and his or her environment allows us to offer treatment based on better-adapted information technologies, responding better to a specific situation. There is an intersection of information between chemical characteristics in medication and each individual’s situation. In five or six years, genomics will be a commodity, and prices will decline enough for massification.

This text has been adapted and translated by Emily Stewart from its original Spanish publication.