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This year’s sharp rise in inflation has affected the economic stability of almost every country globally, and Colombia is no exception. With rates rising to a 23-year high, much of the population struggles to make ends meet, with essential industries such as food, fuel, and healthcare seriously affected. As August’s inflation levels surpass 10% (Colombia’s Central Bank), more pressure is piled onto an already fragile healthcare system. “We are currently facing global inflation, which has increased prices everywhere. It will affect the delivery of medical services and the economics of healthcare,” says Mauricio Rubio Buitrago, president of Méderi hospitals.
This issue bares the question; will inflation begin to decrease access levels across the country? Currently, the system is funded by an impressive health model which ensures all tiers of society are supported; this results in an estimated 94.8% of the total population having access to healthcare.
Many Colombians rely on the national health insurance fund to supply them with necessary healthcare treatment, although recently, resources have fallen short of requirements. “The government increased the healthcare insurance fund to resolve this issue, but it is still insufficient because of inflation and patient demand.” Added Mauricio.
One solution could be the industry's increased prevalence of digitalization and telemedicine. “Digitalization is relevant because it has made us more agile in health procedures, especially concerning new diagnostics and telehealth technologies,” stated Marisol Sanchez, head of Medical Devices at ANDI. Not only does the advancement of such technologies have the potential to provide healthcare across rural and more remote communities, but it will also make healthcare more affordable to all. “If we apply technologies that reduce costs by over 20%; this will contribute to having less cost pressure within the health system”, claimed Mauricio Vélez from Siemens Healthineers. Such price reductions could become indispensable to Colombia’s health system should economic pressure continue in its current trend.
Despite its vast potential, digitalization and telemedicine can only make an impact if quickly adopted by clinics and physicians. In the context of Latin America, Colombia fell behind the curve before the pandemic, with only 25% of hospitals adopting the service, compared to 65% in Chile. Yet, with Covid-19 acting as a catalyst for digital innovation, the country made incredible progress in a very short period of time in what Fernando Ruiz, health minister at the time, described as a “revolution”. Virtual appointments went from a little over 1 million in March 2020 to over 10 million by January 2021. Sustaining this momentum in adoption across the country in the post-covid era will be a crucial part of Colombia’s fight against its next biggest challenge.
Another solution to this concern could be an increase in collaboration between the public and the private sector, a common practice in more developed countries yet still seemingly a rare sight in Colombia, perhaps due to a previous lack of trust between stakeholders, although this is changing “Collaboration is fundamental, and the most important ingredient for driving partnerships between sectors is trust,” stated Patricia Field De Leon of Novo Nordisk, who strives to be the number one collaborator in the country. Julieta Castañeda from J&J MedTech agreed, “Working alone cannot drive significant change,” acknowledging that challenges on such a scale require a combined effort. Evidence of a new collaborative drive can now be seen across the sector, with companies such as Merck, BD, and Janssen committing to increasing access through partnerships. This shift in mentality will prove significant in providing the potential for addressing inflationary impacts.
Despite the turbulent global economy and impending affordability challenges, Colombia is poised to fight these headwinds with strong leadership, determined to break down past barriers, pursue innovative improvements, and bring much-needed healthcare services to ever more of its population.