Telemedicine in Latin America: in search of trained personnel

The success of digital health and telemedicine depends on people with the training and experience to deliver top-caliber care. It is a visible reality in any territory, especially in Latin America, where more trained healthcare professionals are needed to provide services to the population.

According to 2017 statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Latin American region registers one of the largest shortages of healthcare personnel in the world. On average there are 2.28 medical doctors per thousand inhabitants, a figure below the minimum level, which is 2.3 professionals per thousand people.

The need for human resources is most urgent in countries such as Haiti, Guyana, Honduras, and Guatemala, where there is less than one doctor per thousand inhabitants.

The relevance of nurses

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the importance of having nurses in healthcare services. Susan Groenwald, former president of Chamberlain University in the United States, explains: “They are the ones who are at the bedside and therefore have the broadest perspective of what people and their families need”.

Although they are key for patients, nursing professionals are also in short supply in Latin America. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), during 2018 and 2019 there were 9 million 555 thousand 748 workers in the Americas. Most of them labored outside most of the Latin region: 80.9% are in the United States, Canada, and Cuba.

More than the number of professionals

In addition to a greater number of workers, virtual health and telemedicine in Latin America require personnel with the skills to manage digital tools, such as mobile apps or remote conference sites.

Javier Santa Cruz, founder of Doctors Co, a platform that connects doctors with patients in Guatemala, has noticed this need since he started selling his service.

“The main challenge is to get buy-in from the medical community, one of the industries that is furthest behind in technology and one of the most resistant to change. They do not want to transform the ways they worked 20 or 30 years ago. It’s a challenge to introduce new inputs to them,” he says.

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