Read the Conversation
EF: In your opinion, what will 2022 be the year of?
JO: This will be the year of understanding and learning to do life with and after Covid. Before Omnicron, things were better controlled, and people began to come back to normality doing everyday things like travelling and going to the office again. Vaccines were a critical factor in gaining back control, but medicine will be the last nail in the coffin of Covid-19. Once the medicine is in every drug store, Covid will become one of the thousands of diseases we learned to manage. We hope this is the last chapter of Covid-19.
EF: Can you elaborate on the role of Salud Digna during the pandemic?
JO: Providing diagnostic services to Mexico and Central America is our mission. There is a gap between what the lower-income population has and what they need in Latin America. If they go to public health institutions, they wait for long; if they try other options, it will be out of their price range. Their economic standing does not prioritize preventive tests because they have practical issues.
The board members at Salud Digna have comprehensive knowledge and experience with pandemics and public health issues. That is why when covid-19 started spreading from China, their message was to start preparing for it because they felt it would extend beyond what the world had been prepared for. When we began preparing for covid-19, we did not have deep knowledge of molecular biology as a technology. We had to have molecular biology knowledge because the PCR and antigen tests we wanted to provide fall within this discipline. We partnered with Roche, for the technology needed and joined efforts to negotiate with their headquarters in Brasil (Latam) and Switzerland (global) for one of the four available units of test-making equipment in the world at that time. We had to involve a former ambassador to help us arrange other issues regarding different supplies. The equipment came not only to America and Mexico but to Salud Digna. After this achievement, there was a surge in prices, as there was a huge demand for these supplies.
In learning to produce the tests, we came to know other players in the industry like Thermo Fisher and KABLA, who also have world-class technology, supplies and services. We were fortunate to work with six of the key players in the sector, which enabled us to start producing in no time. Today, Salud Digna is now the largest provider of covid-19 tests in Mexico, and we are very proud of that. The real heroes behind this success are our collaborators, which we call Salud Digna's Citizens, who work behind the scenes performing tests, on logistics, purchases, making sure costs align, etc.
As our focus was on delivering and ensuring human wellbeing, the first two months were difficult as our revenue was not high enough to cover the cost, because we trusted that some of the supplies were going to have lower prices in the short term, once the initial shock passed. Thankfully, that happened. Our objective was to have the least expensive test in the country. With the fourth wave of covid-19, some of our sites are now open for 24 hours to keep up with the demand of performing roughly 50 000 covid tests daily. To date, we have performed more than 8 million tests.
EF: What are the lessons learned through this process?
JO: Having the ability, the technology, the skills, and the right allies working on critical areas will always produce solutions. If we invest in the future, we will have an industry that can provide and prepare for the next pandemic. When that happens, we must have the right people, technology, and knowledge to develop a solution. An example would be what happened in Germany in 2020. The government put together a group of the relevant pharmaceutical companies, gave them funding, and asked them to produce a vaccine. That led to the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. There needs to be trust between the private and public sectors for greater collaboration between the two, especially in Latin America.
Flexibility and adaptability are essential factors that play a vital role in how we will tackle the challenges of the future. The way we look for solutions in Salud Digna tends to be different, mainly because of our teams’ unique characteristics and, very importantly, to the vision and relentless pursuit of social impact that Mr. Jesús Vizcarra Calderón, my boss and our founder, puts in every single one of his decisions and directives to me and the team. When you deal with someone like him, you have to be at your best performance level, but also, you have to put the patient and only the patient at the very centre of all your effort. A famous quote from Mr. Vizcarra is printed on the cover of the Harvard Business School case study on Salud Digna: “Don’t tell me why not, tell me how."
EF: Can you elaborate on the trends in diagnostics?
JO: Due to the circumstances in 2020, there was a steep decline in preventative tests such as bone density, pap smears, mammograms, optometry, and other anatomic tests. As people felt these tests were not urgent, they decided to postpone them. Unfortunately, our findings are that this did not come without a cost. Diagnosing at a later stage has an impact.
Roughly, 52% of our patients who get mammographies had no original intention of getting them when they visited our clinic. We explain to our patients why pap smears and mammographies are essential and how characteristics like age and gender can help identify which tests they should take. The tests do not cost a lot and the waiting times are short, so they often accept. This is the reason why we tend to find pathologies in earlier stages. Recently the number of preventative tests has picked up again, and we hope this continues as we continue to push for prevention and early detection.
EF: What is the role of healthcare infrastructure in recovering the economy in Mexico?
JO: No one was prepared for the pandemic, covid-19 related decisions were made with the available resources. At Salud Digna, we always put success projections when entering a new project. This means visualizing success as we did with the Covid-19 tests. We envisioned being the number one provider of the PCR and antigen test in Mexico, and we were even able to offer it at the lowest price available. Our infrastructure has allowed us to have clinics in all 32 states of the country, and it has allowed us to serve 550 000 patients weekly. It is a great responsibility because we have extensive access to the population in Mexico. In 2022 we have an ambitious growth projection plan to get more clinics running and more patients coming to us, which makes us enthusiastic about the future.
EF: Can you elaborate on how Salud Digna is adapting to digital transformation?
JO: In Salud Digna, we are constantly adopting new technologies to increase the level of precision and service we provide. We are including chat apps as part of the channels of communication with patients. We are now serving millions of patients this way, and there is no coming back from that. Patients can receive their results, preparations, and anything appointment-related through online platforms. Our call centre has been growing, WhatsApp has been growing, and we are getting on more digital service platforms to continue growing.
Our success on these digital transformation strategies was deeply accelerated by Covid-19. Before, people would not be inclined to communicate through online platforms, and now it is the complete opposite. Our website traffic has multiplied 20 times over what it was before the pandemic.
On the other hand, we, as a team, became the number one covid test provider without physically meeting the board of directors or each other. Every meeting was conducted virtually, and it is something that we have adapted to. Finally, Artificial Intelligence is changing the world, and it is something we look forward to expanding and evolving with it.
EF: How do you plan to celebrate 20 years of Salud Digna?
JO: Salud Digna is a lively place where people like to celebrate. We always look for the chance to laugh and lighten the load. Let’s hope we can do that again in a “normal” way, very soon.