Latin America Leads the Way on Telemedicine

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As the COVID-19 pandemic drives a global telemedicine revolution, one Latin American initiative is proving the value of remote care.

The Latin America telemedicine network, established in 2012, remotely guides care for heart attack patients.  And new data suggests its approach is effective.  The network recently announced that it has reduced mortality by 55% and provided nearly 900,000 patients with telemedicine services for their heart attack symptoms.  It has also reduced disparities for people in remote areas and saved health care dollars by avoiding unnecessary hospital transfers and admissions.

How the Latin America Telemedicine Network Works

Using a “hub-and-spoke” approach, the network connects small clinics and primary health care centers in remote locations to medical hubs.  These are medical centers that provide emergency non-surgical procedures to treat narrowing arteries.

Patients who arrive at one of the small or rural clinics undergo a “3T” process: telemedicine, triage and transport.  Patient information is sent to one of three diagnosis centers in Colombia, Brazil or Argentina with around-the-clock access to a cardiologist.  If a heart attack is identified in a patient’s ECG, an ambulance is dispatched to transport the patient to nearest hub site. If a heart attack is not identified, the patient is instead diagnosed and treated at the local site.

Today, the telemedicine network provides a care umbrella for more than 100 million patients.

The approach reduces mortality rates in a region where cardiovascular diseases remain a leading cause of death.  The initiative also tackles the most prevalent challenges of telemedicine, including technology gaps, cultural barriers and infrastructure issues.  While Latin American countries each approach telemedicine differently, this particular network illuminates the possibilities of telemedicine to policymakers worldwide.

Telemedicine & COVID-19

The evidence is timely.  As COVID-19’s spread makes caution critical, telemedicine allows patients in Latin America and beyond to access their health providers from a safe place – be it a small local clinic or even the comfort of their own home.  Telemedicine capabilities benefit all patients, but especially high-risk and chronic disease patients who require consistent care.

Latin America’s experience reminds policymakers, patients and providers how innovative solutions can help meet patients where they are.  By increasing patients’ access to care, policies that enable telemedicine may continue to prove important, ensuring timely and optimal care even after COVID-19 subsides.