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EF: If 2020 was the year of diagnostics, 2021 the year of vaccines, when we look back at 2022, what will the key talking points be about healthcare in Colombia?
MB: These past two years were intricate and vastly different from previous years. Many medical processes were delayed during the pandemic. Most patients were restricted to their homes which played a major role in the diagnosis and treatment of other conditions.
2022 is about catching up with other diseases, especially cancer and surgeries. It is important to bring patients back to care to improve their lives. It is also about recovering and creating access. This year, we need to perform quicker diagnoses and improve treatment for all patients. We are currently facing global inflation, which has increased prices everywhere. It will affect the delivery of medical services and the economics of healthcare. Colombia's basic health insurance plan has one of the widest coverages, but not enough resources compared to other global basic health plans. The government increased the healthcare insurance fund to resolve this issue, but it is still insufficient because of inflation and patient demand.
EF: What are the greatest lessons you have learned while managing the pandemic?
MB: Over 90% of our personnel got covid during the last two years and unfortunately, we suffered a few losses. The pandemic taught us how to accelerate services, digitalization, and regulatory processes.
We learned the importance of diagnostics and shifting targets to a more preventative approach. Reflecting and finding solutions as each challenge came taught us a lot. We accepted the change and moved forward with it. Many other factors can affect the healthcare sector, but we will not forget the lessons we learned during the pandemic. Instead, we will be more prepared. We will carry forward the lessons we have learned.
EF: Can you elaborate on the importance of early diagnostics?
MB: Early diagnosis is fundamentally vital. It reduces pain, costs, treatment time, and many other factors. We recently started collaborating with NUEVA EPS, which allows us to detect cancer in its early stages. The collaboration enables us to provide an all-inclusive treatment. The initiative is well coordinated, efficient, and healthy. It has excellent survival rates. We highly recommend all patients get an early diagnosis. A lot of resources and lives have been saved because of early diagnosis and treatment.
EF: Recently, you partnered with Siemens Healthineers to upgrade your medical facilities. How important are such partnerships with MedTech companies?
MB: Through our partnerships with various MedTech companies, we transformed the hospital to be one of the best hospitals in Colombia. Our quality and the comfortability of the hospital is why we are one of the best hospitals. Technology is a core competency that helped our development. At the moment, we have one of the best technologies in Colombia. Mederi is a private hospital but tends to the general population (Social Security) with quality services as the best clinic in Colombia.
EF: Can you elaborate on your plans to implement AI and how some of your physicians are receptive to it?
MB: Artificial intelligence is an incredible tool and the foundation of any great AI begins with information. Data is important and the way it is brought together can deliver better service.
Our physicians are not resistant to AI because we are a university hospital. We are preparing to get the best servers and technology to execute smart results. We need a server to store all the information. The work culture in the hospital allows us to use such tools.
EF: What is your role in telemedicine? Do you offer this service and is the role of your hospital changing?
MB: We have two brick-and-mortar hospitals in Colombia. The third hospital we are working on is a digital service. Telemedicine is our “third” hospital. We are providing service, attention, cure, and care through technology. Patients have different devices and tools, making it difficult to deliver consistent healthcare through telemedicine. Not everyone can afford a smartphone or watch to track their progress. More than half of our patients are not comfortable or familiar with using telemedicine apps. These are all challenges we will continue addressing as we improve our services.
We successfully implemented telemedicine. There are currently 500 patients on our digital service. Our delivery adapts according to the patient.
EF: Can you elaborate on the role of health infrastructure in growing the economy of developing countries such as Colombia?
MB: Adaptation and resilience are crucial for the growth of health infrastructures in developing countries. The main challenge that most developing countries have is technological consistency. Several developing countries have an excellent healthcare infrastructure in their cities and less optimal infrastructure for rural and more remote areas. One of the biggest challenges we face is increasing the reach of access to health services and resources in remote and rural areas. The pandemic shone the light on the healthcare sector on a global scale. Governments and investors are now interested in developing the healthcare sector. Part of the lessons we learned was the importance of the industry.
EF: What are the group’s biggest achievements since you joined?
MB: The hospital was founded in 1962. The main administrators of the hospital were the government. This, unfortunately, led to a run-down hospital. Since the handover 14 years ago, the hospital has grown and transformed by leaps and bounds. The backbones of the hospital are grounded in infrastructure services alongside technology services. Our service is very human and access centric.
Since it is a learning hospital, we train and rotate more than a thousand medical students from one of the top medical universities in Colombia. It is a centre of knowledge.
EF: What new skill sets will you be looking for, and what criteria will you use in the future?
MB: The capacity to adapt to new technologies is important. Perhaps the most important skill for us is resilience. Challenges are a given, making resilience a crucial characteristic. We recently started looking for professional and good-natured candidates. The company looks for candidates that know the patient's needs. Passion is also a trait we look for in people. Healthcare is a personalized and very involving contact industry, which is why passion is so important. It is a meaningful job to obtain.
EF: At the end of the year, what will you celebrate after navigating the year 2022?
MB: Medicine is highly specialized. More often than not, people work as individuals because of skill specialization. Certain diseases require the collaborative effort of physicians to diagnose and treat. We encourage doctors to work together on a patient instead of treating them in specialized isolation. Discussing and tackling the issue for the patient from two different perspectives should be the future. Achieving teamwork is worth celebrating.
EF: Is there any message you would like to share with us?
MB: In the middle of the political turmoil, we must remain optimistic. We must continuously improve ourselves and our work, especially patient care. Going into the future, we should not be resistant to change.