Mexico has been the proud cradle of several advanced civilizations. Mayan science and art, for example, was particularly sophisticated, while the Aztecs built a vast empire. Today, Mexico may be progressing towards a new golden age, this time in healthcare. If the country embraces digitization, partnerships and prevention, a revamped healthcare system will bring wellbeing and prosperity to generations of Mexicans.

With a population of 125 million and the world’s 15th economy, Mexico is a regional if not global heavyweight. The World Bank forecasts that growth will accelerate to 3.5% in 2017 after a few years of sluggish growth. Public health is in need of similarly positive news: non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes are a leading cause of death, around 30% of the country suffers from obesity and 22% of the population has raised blood pressure.

This limits people’s ability to lead happy and productive lives and places a heavy financial burden on the government. A Pan-American Health Organization study found that the cumulative GDP loss for heart disease, stroke and diabetes in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico between 2006 and 2015 was USD 13.54 billion.

Tremendous progress

Mexico’s healthcare system has, however, shown tremendous progress. Before the introduction of the Seguro Popular public health insurance scheme in 2004, only half of the population had health insurance. By 2013, more than 55 million people had joined the scheme and 23 million had received a preventative screening for diabetes and high blood pressure. In spite of this success, an estimated one quarter of the population still has no access to care and private hospitals remain significantly better equipped than public ones.

To close this gap, Mexico needs to work closely with the private sector, embrace innovative technologies and focus on prevention. Philips, for example, recently worked with Mexican and Brazilian authorities to install an integrated IT solution in more than 700 hospitals. The system, that combines clinical and administrative workflows and offers more than 70 different modules (including Electronic Medical Records), helps increase productivity and provision of better patient care. And in Bahia, one of Brazil’s states, a consortium of healthcare companies is going to work with the local government to connect the systems of 12 clinics and revamp their imaging equipment. Integrated solutions will lower costs and increase productivity at these clinics.

Empowering co-operation

Indeed, such public-private partnerships have numerous benefits. They empower different healthcare players to co-operate and share data, meaning prevention becomes easier and treatments can be optimized for each individual patient. Organizational costs, meanwhile, decrease significantly and the overall productivity of the healthcare system is increased. Public-private partnerships can also solve the government’s constrained budgets: more efficient use of Capex, and clear KPIs on deliverables allow the government to provide better healthcare services at lower costs.

Public-private partnerships are also a potent instrument for quickly adopting a new generation of medical technologies. Digitization and advances in big data, for example, are allowing doctors to share digital information around the world. And we are seeing doctors consult on pregnant women hundreds of kilometers away because a nurse was able to take a connected and portable ultrasound into a rural area. Such technologies are developing at an extremely high rate and Mexico needs the private sector in order to keep up.

Great expectations

But it is not just a question of possibilities; it is also a matter of expectations. As in other parts of the world, digital technologies are changing how Mexicans and their Latin American peers work, play and learn. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s internet users come from Latin America and that in 2015 the number of smartphone users in the region will rise 21% to reach 152.6 million. Increasingly, these people expect to manage their own health or communicate with care providers from the comfort of their personal device.

Most of these users will be young people who will be tasked with fulfilling Mexico’s potential. To help them achieve this, the government needs to work with the private sector to develop a sustainable health care system that is affordable, effective and accessible to all. If Mexico can channel the genius of its Mayan and Aztec ancestors, it will be a matter of time before that is the case.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America 2015 takes place in Riviera Maya, Mexico, from 6-8 May.

Author: Henk de Jong, CEO Philips LATAM

Image: A forensic geneticist takes a blood sample for DNA testing in the San Gerardo church in Iguala, Guerrero November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez.