Preparing health systems for the future requires public policies based on data

Decision-making and public policy design based on isolated experiences or intuition (as opposed to facts) have contributed to deficits and vast disparities in Latin American healthcare. These existing problems—challenges related to infrastructure, service fragmentation and limited resource availability—have all worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have also taught us a key lesson: having relevant, accurate data is key to informing healthcare decisions and assuring that public policies respond to our society’s needs.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have seen several countries create innovative digital solutions backed by data. The Argentine Health Ministry, for example, has introduced a public health surveillance system for different respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. This comprehensive monitoring of the situation helped detect cases early on and provide adequate care for patients, besides allowing the government to introduce prevention and control measures to reduce the risk of illness. We should take advantage of the spirit of innovation in our region not only to find solutions to the problems we face today but also to better prepare ourself for the health crises of the future.

The Power of Data

The use of data in decision-making could lay the groundwork for sustainable, efficient health systems. Data use provides solutions for the specific needs of a population and helps us deploy resources more effectively. Cancer registries are an essential data-based health tool. By gathering and consolidating patient data, they help define and monitor cancer incidence rates, research treatment patterns and assess the effectiveness of public health efforts to prevent illness and improve survival rates. For example, according to Cancer Reports, a publication I was involved in, the National Cancer Registry of Uruguay contributed to levelling off the incidence of cervical cancer and then reducing it by 20% between 2005 and 2010.

When it comes to planning and designing public health policies, having a database means being able to understand and respond to the needs of our patients and systems. Assessing the current state of health systems is fundamental to understanding our strengths and weaknesses as a region and at the country level. This information allows us to make decisions and recommendations more confidently, leveraging available resources while strengthening our weaker areas. 

Unfortunately, sharing information and lessons learned is no easy task for healthcare professionals, politicians and decision-makers. Now, however, the FutureProofing Personalised Healthcare Index is helping Latin American countries collaborate and learn from one another like never before. The index has brought together experts, data and insights to create a singular vision of ten healthcare systems in the region. The solutions developed as a result of these efforts will move us closer to the medicine of the future.

Data as a Pillar of Personalised Healthcare

Personalised medicine opens new doors for patients, fostering accurate clinical decisions that improve their quality of life. Additionally, the Personalised Health Index helps us understand that Latin America is close in terms of the technology required to implement healthcare based on data and real-world evidence. As reported in the index, the region is performing well, with high scores in personalised technologies. This shows that headway is being made in terms of the devices, applications, platforms and reimbursement structures needed to drive personalised healthcare. With regard to the measures covered in the index, the countries in the region had particularly strong results in developing digital initiatives for public services, a sign of the region’s digital capabilities. 

However, the implementation of data-based medicine greatly depends on political will to put into motion existing mechanisms at the country and regional level and introduce solutions to the challenges the region faces. The collaboration of healthcare professionals and patient organisations will also be critical to making personalised healthcare a reality.

At Fundación ISALUD, we recently collaborated with Movimiento Salud 2030, organising a round table with healthcare experts to discuss plans to drive digital health systems in Latin America. This is an example of how we can work together to leverage data’s enormous potential to improve the quality of life of millions of people. 

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