Telemedicine has become an important tool for healthcare providers during the pandemic, revolutionising how medical care is delivered. The opportunity for growth of such services in Latin America is huge but there are still structural barriers.
A health regulatory expert in Chile has seen regulators playing catch-up, “Regulation is very poor and immature across Latin America. Until recently, telemedicine wasn’t regulated as doctor-patient care in many countries including Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Telemedicine consultations in these countries were limited to doctor-doctor care, especially to support doctors in remote areas. The pandemic has changed all of this. Telemedicine has become a matter of national priority for governments, there is a lot of effort in pushing through regulation.”
“Regulation is very poor and immature across Latin America. Until recently, telemedicine wasn’t regulated as doctor-patient care in many countries including Brazil, Colombia and Peru.”
Health regulatory expert, Chile
According to a health-tech entrepreneur, it was primarily the doctors who had blocked the growth of telemedicine prior to the pandemic, “Some doctors feel more comfortable with face-to-face consultations. The medical sector in Latin America is very traditional and protectionist and this had created a cultural barrier. This has gone now and many doctors are embracing the new platforms out of necessity but also because they provide some benefits. In particular, the liabilities on the doctors is less than with face-to-face consultations as everything is recorded and there is better protection for the doctor from legal issues.”
The CEO of a regional healthcare technology company based in Peru described the market, “There has been a boom at the local level in telemedicine as patients were forced to be seen from home. There have been 9 million telemedicine appointments in Colombia alone since the pandemic began, a 7,000% increase on the prior year. The growth will continue and because of the region’s common language cross-border tele-appointments are possible too.”
“There has been a boom at the local level in telemedicine as patients were forced to be seen from home. There have been 9 million telemedicine appointments in Colombia alone since the pandemic began.”
CEO, Latin American healthcare technology company
There are a number of barriers facing the immature sector though, the CEO continued, “Until recently, medical prescriptions had to be on paper, only now are electronic prescriptions being issued with an advanced signature that can be scanned by the pharmacy. Integration of these electronic service platforms is challenging though, there isn’t a single database, it is an incredibly fragmented system. Cybersecurity and privacy is also a concern in Latin America – for example, only Mexico and Uruguay have an independent national data protection authority.”
Insurance is another interesting consideration, the entrepreneur commented, “The government has also instructed the public insurance to codify the benefits and this offers a base for private insurance that must offer a minimum of the coverage offered by the public service. So now the system already incorporates telemedicine to what is insurable and money flows are beginning to be an incentive for people to use telemedicine.”
As with any market disruption, opportunities abound. Let’s hope the governments and regulators can act quickly enough for the public to reap the benefits of this technological and cultural shift in medical care.