Modernizing Mexican Healthcare

Mexico’s long march toward truly universal healthcare has reached the landscape of Industry 4.0, where today digitalization is as necessary as political commitment.

The year 1943 was a landmark for Mexicans as the pioneering Social Security Law rendered the state legally responsible for the collective wellbeing of all.

This was closely filled by the launch of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), an integrated system of pensions and healthcare provision theoretically accessible to all citizens. Yet, the system has failed to reach the immense informal society due to economic headwinds that curbed political commitment. Market-driven, neo-liberal politics, in short, rendered healthcare a hot potato.

The 1994 signing of the NAFTA accord only strengthened the hand of the private sector, and, as intended, prompting a move toward private treatment. According to Javier Potes, Managing Director of Consorcio Mexicano de Hospitales, which fosters synergy among private health institutions, “Over the past two years, there has been a 40% rise in what people spend on health.”

Challenges to Wellness…

The dynamic of healthcare is changing, with the aging population witnessing a shift from infectious to chronic diseases. And in recent years COVID-19 has drained the public health insurance system, while procurement has remained an opaque and sometimes inefficient process of tenders.

…and Rethinking the Sector

Zooming into the present, Mexico’s healthcare sector is becoming attuned to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) as a litmus test of sustainability, social contribution, and efficacy. And so the drive for patient-centricity means that the concept of ESG’s triple bottom line is increasingly relevant.

A Vote for Health

In a remedial move to boost public sector coverage, the administration of President Fox in 2003 established Seguro Popular de Salud (SPS), a package of core health services for the—at the time—53 million uninsured citizens. This model encompassed 2,000 diagnoses, 65 catastrophic conditions, and 100% coverage for children under five. Yet it, too, failed to enroll 20 million Mexicans.

Mexico’s 2018 presidential election brought victory for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, notably on a health-for-all ticket. He labeled the health sector “a disaster” greater even than its education counterpart. The pledge was to provide medical care and pharmaceuticals free for the entire population, yet this will take more than a single political term.

Obrador introduced MAIS (the IMSS-Bienestar Model of Integrated Health Care), comprising just two components of medical care and community participation, operated by IMSS through agreements with respective states. MAIS has proven itself with the rural poor but has not adequately addressed the health and social problems of Mexico’s cities.

A (Private) Case Study

“Private” is by no means synonymous with “pernicious,” and Potes observes how, in Mexico, despite the public-private healthcare duopoly, the “bottom line is that the public sector through tax collection pays the private sector to provide the services.” In truth, the private sector has revealed moments of true initiative to the benefit of its public sibling.

To prevent the state seizure of private hospitals during the pandemic, Consorcio Mexicano de Hospitales inked a deal with the government to treat non-COVID-19 patients—over 20,000 in total. The result? Freed-up public sector beds for non-COVID-19 treatment and the ability to “cover part of the fixed expenses of those facilities, [resulting in] a win-win-win.”

A Digital Panacea?

Digital disruption is today the reality in healthcare it was in the financial sector, where it also targets wider participation. The efficiencies to be reaped from practices such as telemedicine are legion, and promise to rationalize Mexico’s healthcare system over time, despite gradual take-up. According to Potes, “Implementation of technology in the sector is lower than 5%.” And even where adopted, technology often outpaces operational models at many hospitals. His organization champions technology adoption in the healthcare universe.

Cutting waiting times dramatically streamlines available healthcare resources. And an alliance with AWS Mexico (Amazon Web Services) aims to “redesign the healthcare system with technology at its base [to] reduce waiting times and […] even redirect you if necessary for travel convenience.” This data-driven technology is proven by Uber and Airbnb, which leverage data to offer optimum service.

ABC Medical Center is another sector player leaning on zeroes and ones to reshape its clinical management system The center has put in place clinical work guidelines setting standards for treatments. The resulting system, according to Managing Director José María Zubiría Maqueo, “provides feedback for the patient, the doctor, and the hospital itself, [meaning] greater certainty for the patient, more information for the doctor, […] a better diagnosis, and assurance for the hospital that all these protocols and guidelines are being followed.”

Mexico’s public healthcare sector, then, has reflected the dominant political climate and imperatives of the free market. Yet, while patient-centricity is advancing in the private sector disproportionately, there is evidence that cross-fertilization is upping the overall game.