International Hospitals & Healthcare

Telemedicine to improve Latin America

Doctor providing telemedicine services

New research published by Florida International University’s College of Business (FIU Business) has found that increased adoption of telemedicine in Latin America will further expand and boost efficiency in healthcare, leading to improved health and potential cost efficiency. However, its use has yet to reach broad national and regional levels due to a lack of strong technical knowledge, leadership within healthcare organisations and increased co-operation within organisations around key health issues.

The study, which was published in the February 2019 issue of Health Affairs, profiled current levels of telemedicine use among hospitals in nine Latin American countries: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. The study found that telemedicine adoption was 30-per-cent higher in public hospitals than in private facilities, indicating a lack of consensus over the implementation of telemedicine in the healthcare sector in Latin America. The results further suggest that telemedicine may not be adopted based on legislation alone and that there is additional legislation necessary to protect valued patient confidentiality and privacy in telemedicine.

Associate Professor of Information Systems and Business Analytics at FIU Business Cynthia LeRouge – who conducted the research – said: “It is very difficult to maximise the potential impact of telemedicine in any country without comprehensive approaches to addressing interrelated areas of concern including regulatory, financial, technological, and human factors.”

Data analysed from the 2017 HospiScope database of Latin American hospitals and the 2015 World Health Organization Global Survey on eHealth identified Colombia as the country with the lowest use of telemedicine, with 26 per cent of hospitals utilising it. On the other hand, Chile was named the country with the highest rate of telemedicine adoption by hospitals and coverage of medical specialties – 65 per cent of Chilean hospitals used telemedicine. Incidentally, Chile was one of the first countries that transitioned from international funding to government funding for telemedicine services. Indeed, in 2004 its Ministry of Health implemented a US$6 million, seven-year programme to accelerate health IT infrastructure nationwide.

“Technical knowledge and leadership must accompany access to technology for telemedicine’s long-term adoption,” said LeRouge. “Interestingly, while results showed that hospitals with IT leadership were more likely to adopt telemedicine, the size of IT staffs was not a significant predictor of telemedicine use.”