Posted: 15 Dec. 2022 6 min. read

The Future of Health in Latin America: Putting the consumer at the center

By Alex Arias, Life Sciences & Health Care industry leader, and Alfredo Gomez, partner, Deloitte Latin America

It has become increasingly clear that the Future of HealthTM involves a model that puts the consumer (and technology) at the center. And while this holds true for Latin America, the region has presented some unique challenges that needed to be addressed if operating models were to be redesigned around the consumer and their needs.

But now the expectation that a consumer-centric model in Latin America would progress in a methodical manner over a number of years has been firmly quashed as COVID-19 galvanized the health care world to accelerate change. The future of health care is now. For health care systems in Latin America, that means taking stock of its current state and identifying how to move forward.

Consumer-centric health care, ready or not

Consumers in Latin America, like much of the world, are now empowered through science, data, and technology, to assess their health, intervene proactively, and better understand illness to sustain their well-being. But is this region ready for an empowered consumer? It’s true that COVID-19 pushed Latin America’s health sector to use information and communication technologies—usually reserved for rural areas—to meet the needs of both urban and rural consumers. In turn, consumers were forced to turn to technology.

But with the pandemic ebbing, Latin American health systems now need to figure out how to build this more connected consumer into their operating models. This means a shift in thinking from a primary to a preventative focus, and redesigning models that bring health services to the consumer and not the other way around.

In most current operating models, however, consumers make their way to health care facilities when they already have a health issue. And with many health systems in the region facing rising costs and inadequate funding—in large part due to the large informal economies that limit taxation for healthcare financing1—markets are focused on perpetuating this model, delivering health care primarily in hospitals. As such, there is typically little funding left to focus on other initiatives, such as preventive care.

This also means a lack of focus on digital transformation.2 Minimal spending on digital has a direct impact on the region’s efforts to put consumers at the center, mainly in the form of interoperability. The ability of different systems to digitally exchange health data and translate it into a format usable by consumers is critical to consumer-centric health care. The fragmented health care systems found in many countries throughout the region only exacerbates the lack of digital interoperability. And what digital interoperability there is, continues mostly to focus on treating illnesses and diseases, leaving consumer health second.

Finding the opportunity

A convergence of digital transformation and delivery models is likely how health care will need to be delivered in the future. The rise of consumerism is powered by digital technology—and that, in turn, is now driving its use in health care. Consumers are already demanding the services of the future. Their experience in other industries—such as travel and retail—is driving the need for a similar seamless and agile experience in health care.

Given this need, and the region’s large spend on health in the private sector, new innovative digital entrants to the sector—healthtechs—have emerged. In 2020 alone, Latin American healthtechs received a six-fold increase in venture capital investment compared to the previous year.3 New tech players from outside the health care sector are also finding opportunities to serve consumer health needs, for example, in the form of wearables.

These new entrants, however, should be viewed as an opportunity for the region’s health systems. Partnerships with emergent players could help incumbents achieve their goals—and can be a more cost-effective way into new technology segments. But incumbents should be careful to not adopt technology simply to digitize old ways of working. Rather, they need to leverage technology to enhance the consumer experience and tap into unmet consumer needs.

Getting from here to there

A new consumer-centric operating model will be driven by greater data connectivity; interoperable, open, and secure platforms; and increasing consumer engagement. To realize this shift, there are a few key trends that traditional life sciences and health care systems should heed in order to achieve an operating model focused on consumers. These include:

  • Data and platforms: The backbone of consumer-driven health and ecosystems, data and platforms will generate the insights needed for decision making. Everything else will build on that foundation.
  • Well-being and care delivery: Care facilities and health communities—both virtual and physical—are emerging as an important component in the consumer-centric delivery of products, care, wellness, and well-being.
  • Care enablement: Players from both inside and outside the health sector—connectors, financers, and regulators, to name a few—are helping the industry’s engine run.

While these trends can’t be integrated all at once by any one single player in the ecosystem, they are all vital for a fully functioning and integrated consumer-centric system. Facets of them can help build a cohesive strategy that includes new business models. Organizations should look for what falls within their scope of control, identifying the roles that they want to play in a future of health where the consumer is front and center.

Developing a consumer-centric health care operating system involves a fundamental paradigm shift from health care to health. Health should focus on the consumer at all times—not just when they arrive at the hospital. This requires a move from simply treatment after the fact to a holistic approach to health. Given consumer expectations and the advent of digital technologies, health systems in Latin America now have both the impetus and the tools to realize the future of health in their region.

Endnotes:

1 Latin America Healthcare System Overview. London School of Economics and Political Science, August 2019

2 México requiere fortalecer la medicina preventiva y estimular la práctica de la medicina general, University Center of Health Sciences, Universidad de Guadalajara

3 Startupeable, June 10, 2021

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