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EF: What has been ABIMED's role and priority during the pandemic?
FS: We have been quite involved in Brazil since the pandemic began. There was a critical shortage of medical equipment like respirators and masks. The deficit was due to the explosive demand for products worldwide. The industry managed to stabilize the market. Before vaccines could be administered, proper planning was needed, and it was a challenge for the medical industry. This generation had not gone through a pandemic before. We had to learn what to do and deal with it all at the moment. We did new things and overcame the challenges we faced by prioritizing.
Brazil is a net importer of its medical equipment, raw materials, and parts from different regions of the world. There was a shortage of transport and issues around the logistics of supplies and equipment. At that time, the problems seemed like they were compounding. We were able to overcome and manage those issues. Besides, the 2 initial years of the pandemic had a dramatic impact on reducing the number of eligible surgeries.
EF: What do you see 2022 as the year of?
FS: Our associates believe 2022 will be a progressive year. Uncertainties will decrease because the industry has an exceptional demand capacity. People and companies can manage the unexpected now because they have a better experience. Markets will perform better than in the past two years. However, It’s also important to mention that the conflict in Europe, is impacting our industry, in terms of cost increases and even some material/supplies shortages, and that situation may affect the market performance this year.
The government, at the Federal and State levels, decided to establish two plants to increase production, stabilize the demand, and create flexibility in vaccine provisions. One in Sao Paulo and the other in Rio de Janeiro.
EF: What change do you think is needed to build and maintain the medical technology industry in Brazil?
FS: Brazil has been impacted by a lack of strategic planning in the past. Our industry is, therefore, becoming less crucial in worldwide participation. Brazil needs to develop a new industrial policy. The repercussions of not modifying our policies will be the inability to participate in the supply chain globally. As a non-crucial member of global commerce, getting more imports or being prioritized on other countries' agendas is more challenging.
We are working with policymakers in Congress to get new industrial policies that include three aspects. The first is to be open to international capital. Secondly, we have to become more innovative and absorb the advance in technology. The third aspect is developing a local supply chain for our industry because we will have a business that can produce equipment with no suppliers. That is why it is crucial to have horizontal development and become a key player internationally. It is a great moment for our sector because it will accelerate a new way of seeing health by policymakers, industrialists, and other sectors of the economy.
EF: What do you think will be the role of digital transformation in Brazil?
FS: We have a series of articles that discuss different aspects of the digital transformation in Brazil. Telemedicine was a breakthrough for the Brazilian population during the pandemic. People could communicate with their doctors and get their prescriptions through digital platforms. People had to develop the habit of using digital media. There is no uniformity in development between the other regions in Brazil. The regions that aren't close to the big hubs, like Sao Paulo, have difficulty accessing the same technology. There are other regions where it is challenging to consult a doctor.
The biggest issue around digital transformation is data management and security. In the last two years, a new law, the RGPG, came out similar to the general data protection law in Europe. We have an agency that monitors and ensures that all sensitive data remains safe. We need to create a better model that protects data and sensitive health information worldwide. Europe has centralized data banks and systems that work, and it is something we can learn in Brazil. Until we can guarantee confidentiality and learn how to manage the data, it will always be a significant concern.
Our market evolves fast. There is constantly new technology and development. The incremental changes occur in a very marginal amount of time because there are always new things and improvements in the market. The onus is on us to make the healthcare industry more patient-centric by consistently improving and bringing new technologies. We need to start seeing technology as infinite in its usage for our health. A time will come when we can be treated from anywhere in the world because everything will be digital, compatible, and interchangeable.
EF: What is your definition of access?
FS: Telemedicine access could solve the discrepancies and differences between the different regions in Brazil. In the bigger cities, there are well-established medical services. The further you go out from the main cities, the less development there is. One of the ways to bridge this gap and bring access to all is through telemedicine. Technology will democratize access to particular regions. We can keep track of chronic patients and prevent them from having worse conditions. We tend to jump into tertiary or specialized attention when we do not have good access to immediate attention, which is costly and can be avoided. Telemedicine is vital in assisting and closing the gap to access.
Technology is not a barrier to access. The main challenge is offering the relevant technology as needed per case. An example would be doing an MRI scan when the patient needs an X-ray. It is unnecessary, but it is also costly for the patient and the hospital. We will continue striving for growth and improvement.
EF: What two courses would you consider mandatory for future leaders in our sector?
FS: People have to consider data management and confidentiality when designing and creating products. Future products have to be user-friendly. Technology should be easy to use and data must be easily transferrable between users. Doctors have to become more patient-centric regarding the technology they use per case. The industry has a role in training and developing people in the healthcare sector. It will make for a better value-based service. Having different payment formats will be vital and easier to implement when technological products are made user-friendly, safe, and used in a suitable case. Design based on data and patient-centricity is the main aim.
EF: What would you be remembered for in the next ten years?
FS: It would be great if one day we looked back and saw the positive contributions we have made during these past few years. We have the opportunity to shape the future of the healthcare industry here in Brazil. We can contribute towards and create better access through high-end technology.