Having worked in market research for over 20 years, Guillaume Corpart, Founder & CEO, Global Health Intelligence, strives to help clients identify target markets, opportunities, and see where they can get growth and how to achieve it. He founded Global Health Intelligence, a market research and intelligence firm in 2014 that focuses on the healthcare space in emerging markets. The company started by creating a database of all the hospitals in Brazil, and then gradually expanded to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile, among others. It now covers 18 countries in Latin America and is also expanding to Asia and the Middle East.
As a moderator at the upcoming Omnia Health Live Americas, Corpart will be discussing the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems in Latin America and the major trends this will drive moving forward, particularly pertaining to technology penetration and adoption. In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, he said that COVID-19 has had a polarising effect on healthcare systems.
Corpart expressed that COVID-19 has crippled healthcare systems globally and Latin America was no exception. Moreover, the region was ill-prepared to face the pandemic. He said: “The economic impact of COVID-19 is something that's going to be around us for the next two years. On the one hand, we have seen a rise in hospital admissions to treat urgent cases, which has resulted in a saturation of healthcare systems. While on the other hand, there has been a steep decline in doctor visits and non-emergency procedures as patients wanted to stay away from the hospital setting.”
Latin America is also characterised by having smaller hospital size than most other countries around the world. This, he explained, means that the region doesn't have access to the financial or infrastructure leveraging capabilities that are required to acquire more equipment.
Accelerated tech adoption
When asked if COVID-19 has had a positive impact on technology adoption such as artificial intelligence (AI), telemedicine, or remote patient monitoring, Corpart said that both technology and connectivity can play a strong role in shaping the future of healthcare. This can be achieved by reducing the number of touchpoints that a patient has with the institution as well as reducing the amount of time that a patient spends inside the institution.
Corpart emphasised: “Certainly telemedicine is a key component in that framework, notably for diagnosing patients and seeing if a hospital visit is really necessary. But connectivity can also help schedule appointments and keep everyone on time so that patients spend as little time as possible within a hospital. And finally, technology can also be used to deliver results, whether that be digital diagnostic images or a virtual consult to explain a situation.”
In terms of technology adoption, telemedicine has not been as prevalent in Latin America, as compared to other countries. Therefore, patients who might not have COVID-19 had to go into a hospital and be surrounded by people that might be contagious.
“At the onset of COVID-19, a lot of companies invested in AI tools,” he shared. “A laboratory in Mexico created an online screener to see if patients needed to get tested. Initially, there was a lot of confusion and patients didn't even know they needed to get tested. So, the laboratory was using online screeners and AI to model if patients actually needed that test or not.”
According to Corpart, technology adoption needs to be more ingrained in the culture because there are other threats that the region has to face besides the pandemic.
“Latin America is facing an ageing demographic, an obesity epidemic, and another pandemic might be around the corner. Therefore, we need to find tools that can scale to the occasion and increasing technology adoption is the only way to do it. In certain cases, COVID-19 did help accelerate the test penetration and technology adoption, with AI modelling being one of them. I'm just curious as to see if that impact will be sustained in the long term or if it was just a one-time investment,” he added.
Latin America saw a vast expansion of primary care equipment and devices used to detect, treat and support COVID-19 patients. This includes patient monitoring systems, infusion pumps, electrocardiograms, diagnostic equipment, blood analysis machinery, amongst others. However, the flip side, Corpart said, was the major contraction seen in equipment and devices used within surgical procedures such as plastic surgery devices and implants, orthopaedic devices, dental implants and orthodontics accessories, surgical staplers, haemostats and sealants, amongst others.
“In the next 18 to 24 months, we're going to see a slowdown in the purchase of high tech, high-quality capital equipment that's not related to pandemic detection,” he elaborated. “For instance, MRIs, robotic surgery systems etc., cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and require technical expertise. Hospitals, both on the public and private side have been heavily impacted financially by COVID-19. Therefore, all those huge investments will be postponed or put on hold temporarily.”
According to projections, lower-cost goods will have an advantage over the higher cost equipment and devices. So, investments in short to medium term will be related to the sub-premium market such as ventilators and patient monitoring system, and acute care patients will rise. “The ventilator availability in Latin America is below the standards of the U.S. or Europe. The ventilator installed base has dropped across the region in every single country for the past three years, except Brazil, which saw heavy investments in ventilators from 2018 to 2020,” he shared.
Changing the mindset
Understanding the needs of the market is more critical than ever, stressed Corpart, because the new normal is shifting all of the established parameters that had been set for the past two decades. Whether you're looking to sell technology or a capital good, or consumables, understanding what the market needs is essential.
For instance, for companies that sell high-tech equipment such as 3D modelling systems for surgeries or robotic surgery systems, they need to keep in mind factors such as which hospitals could potentially acquire it? Where are they located? What are their financial needs? What are their financial capabilities today, because those will be different than what they were six months or a year ago?
The same questions also apply to companies selling gloves or syringes. At the onset of COVID-19, there had been a 50 to 90 per cent drop in non-emergency procedures. “That's massive and has had a strong impact on the financials of businesses because maybe hospitals don't need as many syringes as they used to, as patients are not coming in or maybe they need more because they're catching up on procedures that had been postponed. So, understanding client needs is critical,” he added.
Furthermore, companies also need to be budget-conscious. From a technology standpoint, Corpart advises that it would be good to have a technology roadmap, be it on the supplier-vendor side, such as a supplier of technology or an adopter of technology, such as hospitals or clinics. The roadmap will ensure business acquire systems after fully understanding how and why they fit together. Scalability is also a critical factor, both for dealing with pandemics, and with the obesity epidemic and ageing population, and results in patient interoperability, with better integration of electronic health records, and understanding that “scale will win the game”.
On a parting note, he said that there needs to be a change in the mindset. “It's still too early to tell if COVID-19 has been able to change the mindset. Only the next couple of months will tell. Technology and connectivity are at the centre of business continuity. Overall, we will see budget reductions across the board for 2021. This will lead to the expansion of sub-premium products, both in the public and the private sector,” he concluded.
Corpart will be moderating the ‘Adoption and penetration of high-tech equipment in Latin America’ on Friday, November 6 at Omnia Health Live Americas