The healthcare industry has an intrinsic connection with population growth. Throughout history its development has been affected by disease burden, demographics and other factors, and today is no different. Important trends such as the inversion of the age pyramid – with an ever increasing volume of elderly population – and the growing incidence of chronic diseases will challenge health institutions with rising care costs and declining profit margins.
According to Frost & Sullivan’s Mega Trends in Latin America, almost 70 million people in the region will be over 60 years old by 2020. This trend could see regional healthcare expenditure rise to US$580 billion this year. By 2018, Brazil in particular will have to deal with almost 52 million people suffering from obesity and 32 million people diagnosed with diabetes. Hypertension, the most prevalent chronic disease in Brazil, will affect 24% of the population. As you can imagine, these trends have in the mid-to long-term the potential to completely reshape the way healthcare is provided in Brazil.
Besides the population changes, there are also social trends affecting the Brazilian healthcare industry. Frost & Sullivan expects that by 2025 there will be 1.3 billion connected devices in Latin America. This connected era is creating a new type of patient: the engaged patient. Nowadays Brazilians are using online search tools, mobile apps and wearable devices to increase their awareness about their own health conditions. These informed individuals have a different profile and do not want to simply have doctors’ appraisal; they want to understand and participate in the care process. The surge of this new patient profile is driving Brazilian healthcare institutions to look into patient engagement, thus treating them more as a customer than just a patient.
Along with the aforementioned trends that are slowly affecting the Brazilian healthcare industry, care institutions already have to deal with daily challenges, such as the need to increase process efficiency and control, expand care reach to a wider population, reduce institutions’ costs and provide affordable care.
IT Penetration in Brazil’s Healthcare industry
Technologies will play a major role in this complex scenario and will become a key ally of Brazilian healthcare institutions. Besides care technologies such as electronic medical records (EMR) – a market that will reach US$336 million in Brazil by 2018 – new technologies coming directly from the IT world have a huge potential in the Brazilian industry.
Technologies such as social media and video conferencing are progressively gaining space in the Brazilian healthcare industry. Both technologies can support care process and expand knowledge for population and physicians. While social media creates networks of patients/doctors and allows them to share experiences and increase their findings about diseases, video conferencing has been used to support students of medicine, as they can remotely watch live surgeries by specialists, as well as facilitate collaboration during research and support remote consultations.
In Brazil, remote consultation can only be used in the form of a second doctor (or specialist) appraisal to support an in-site doctor in the diagnostic. Some Brazilian hospitals and universities are already implementing video conferencing, which is the case of the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE) that has implemented an immersive room from Polycom to enhance medical student surgery training. Another example is the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo, which uses Cisco’s mobile healthcare telemedicine solution, developed for remote consults, virtual care and medical education. The technology provides communication between the intensive care unit and emergency room at the Dr. Moysés Deutsch Municipal Hospital and the Telemedicine Center at Albert Einstein, both in São Paulo, to assist seriously ill patients if no specialists are available at the public unit or if a second opinion is required.
Mobility Makes the Biggest Impact
Although the mentioned technologies have huge potential to improve care, so far the big star in IT in healthcare has been mobility. Mobile health has been a trendy topic for a few years, and this hype can be justified not only because of its benefits, but especially because of its huge potential reach. On the healthcare institutions side, mobility can facilitate hospital’s staff access to content, including drug reference and medical calculators, as well as providing enhanced and simplified care when integrated with EMR. Due to its costs, mobile adoption is happening mainly in leading hospitals in Brazil, such as Nossa Senhora das Graças (Porto Alegre), which implemented Microsoft tablets equipped with a hospital information system (HIS) from TOTVs, a large Brazilian software provider. The tablets, integrated to the hospital’s applications, are enabled to better track medication and vital information about patients using digital records as well as to improve processes reliability and enhance patient care.
While there are possibilities for mobile technologies in health institutions, it is in the customer side that we may expect a major change. Applications dedicated to monitor health conditions, vital signs, diets and exercises have been adopted on a wide scale and can strongly benefit remote monitoring. In fact, to boost the creation of applications, including healthcare ones, the Brazilian Ministry of Communication funded the INOVaps program that rewards the 25 most innovative public utility applications.
Mobile phones can also be used to support care and increase knowledge in remote areas, where health services coverage is still poor. For example, Telefonica Vivo has created the Vivo Ligue Saúde service which, for just US$2 a week, provides emergency and preventative guidance via mobile phone, with weekly healthcare tips through text messages. The service already has 2.2 million clients.
Big Data Remains Under-Explored
Much has been said about the big data trend, with magazines, newspapers, IT and non-IT websites presenting it as a hot topic – and it really is. However in Brazil the spread of awareness regarding big data benefits is only recent and companies from all industries are therefore still in the process of understanding how to implement it and what return on investment they will get from its application. For the healthcare industry, although big data benefits can be multiple – such as the identification of recurrent clinical pictures and effective treatments or the enhancement of prevention with genomic analytics – Brazilian hospitals have not yet started integrating big data solutions. Thus, this market needs still to be conquered by IT companies.
The mentioned technologies, together with holography and3D bio-printing, among others, are expected to nurture big enhancements in health processes. As the Brazilian healthcare industry is taking its first step towards a predictive, participatory and personalized care, the space for IT players in this market is tremendous.