Telemedicine Promises to Advance Healthcare in Latin America, but Faces Systemic Obstacles, Research from FIU Business Finds

MIAMI--()--Telemedicine holds great promise to address a wide range of health issues in Latin America. Yet its use hasn’t reached broad national and regional levels.

Research from Florida International University’s College of Business (FIU Business) indicates 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, without strong technical knowledge, leadership within healthcare organizations and increased cooperation within organizations around key health issues, efforts to implement telemedicine could remain scattered.

It will open possibilities for cost savings when it is viewed from a health system perspective and not as a collage of stand-alone projects aligned to the sometimes-conflicting interests of governments, donors, and private organizations,” said Cynthia LeRouge, associate professor of information systems and business analytics at FIU Business, who conducted the research.

Telemedicine refers to caring for patients remotely, often through a secure video connection, when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other. The study, 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. Among the key findings are that telemedicine adoption in public hospitals was 30 percent higher than in private facilities, suggesting the lack of a consensus on telemedicine systems within the healthcare sector in Latin America. Results also indicate that legislation alone may not promote adoption; however, additional legislation is necessary to protect valued patient confidentiality and privacy in telemedicine.

It is very difficult to maximize the potential impact of telemedicine in any country without comprehensive approaches to addressing interrelated areas of concern including regulatory, financial, technological, and human factors,” LeRouge said.

Researchers analyzed data from the 2017 HospiScope database of Latin American hospitals and the 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) Global Survey on eHealth. They found that the use of telemedicine ranged from 26 percent of hospitals in Colombia to 65 percent in Chile.

Of the countries studied, Chile has the highest rate of telemedicine adoption by hospitals and coverage of medical specialties. It was one of the first countries that transitioned from international funding to government funding for telemedicine services. In 2004 its Ministry of Health implemented a $6 million, seven-year program 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.”

The paper was co-authored by LeRouge with FIU colleagues Manjul Gupta, assistant professor of information systems and business analytics; and Alejandro Arrieta, assistant professor of health policy and management at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work; as well as Guillaume Corpart, CEO of Miami-based Global Health Intelligence.

A copy of the research paper is available upon request.


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