Huge opportunity for technology to transform Brazil's healthcare system

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By Tom Idle

May 01, 2017 - reading time 4 mins

By Tom Idle

Narrative Matters


Tom Idle is the founder of Narrative Matters, a content creation agency that develops, creates and publishes content that truly engages audiences around issues of global social, environmental and economic importance. As the former editor-in-chief at 2degrees, Tom now provides strategic editorial insight and support to help organisations – from large corporates, to NGOs – build content strategies that focus on editorial that is accessible, shareable, intelligent and conversation-driving.

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By 2020, almost 70 million people across Latin America will be over the age of 60, which could see healthcare expenditure reach some $580 billion this year. In Brazil, 52 million people will be obese by next year and 32 million people will need treatment for diabetes.

Doctor in hospital ward tablet pc

The Zika epidemic – which could end up costing the nations affected more than $18 billion thanks to tourists turning their back on the region and a loss of productivity – has not helped.

Poor access to care

With just two hospital beds for every 1,000 people, long waiting lists just to get an x-ray, and more than 75% of Brazilians having to rely on an already stretched public Unified Health System, it is no wonder half of people consider healthcare to be the country’s biggest problem – well above violence, corruption and unemployment.

So, the health of people is poor and few people have good access to healthcare across the country. The 2016 Future Health Index (FHI), which provides a benchmark for a country’s readiness to meet some of the key healthcare challenges emerging globally, ranks Brazil 12th out of 13 countries due to its below-average access to healthcare and a lack of infrastructure to support the improvement of it across the country.

The study also suggests bureaucracy and government health policies and regulations are not helping to improve the situation in a country that has historically struggled to provide adequate healthcare to its increasingly elderly population of 190 million people.

Tech savvy patients can alleviate the pressure

However, while people are getting older, they are becoming more technologically savvy too. By 2025, Latin America will have 1.3 billion connected devices, helping to foster a new type of patient that is much more aware of their own health conditions, and able to act to improve it before ever needing to access a hospital or doctor’s surgery.

The advent of online search functions, wearable devices and mobile apps is helping Brazilians to better understand their health and help treat themselves in a way that a previous generation have never done.

Technology improving efficiency

For healthcare institutions, new technologies are offering a way to keep budgets under control and find efficiencies in the way they treat, care for and communicate with more and more patients. This is being encouraged by the country’s Ministry of Health, which is launching initiatives and national standards to promote information sharing.


Right now, Brazilian regulations dictate that remote consultation can only be used for a second doctor or specialist appraisal to assist a present, on-site doctor, but video conferencing is proving a useful substitute for face-to-face experiences, particularly for medical students. The Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Recife recently installed an immersive room to support surgery training, for example.


So far, mobile technologies have made the greatest impact, particularly in the larger, more advanced hospitals where healthcare professionals are making use of tablets to access content, such as drug reference information, all linked to digital patient records.

Mobile health and big data

But it is on the patient side that mobile technologies have the biggest opportunity to make an impact. The 2016 FHI data finds that just 40% of Brazilian patients agree they have access to the information and resources needed to live healthily, for example. Smart phone apps to keep a check on health conditions and help to motivate effective dieting and more consistent exercise have been widely taken up as coverage has expanded across Brazil. The Brazilian Ministry of Communication’s decision to fund a program to encourage the development of public utility, including healthcare, apps has been warmly welcomed.


Elsewhere, connected care technologies – where big data might be used to better diagnose patients or spot potential issues before they turn into full-blown health concerns – are still very much in their infancy.


However, while the knowledge and use of such technologies is limited, doctors and patients alike understand that improved interconnectivity is important to improving healthcare in Brazil. In fact, it is a similar story in many other developing countries. According to the 2016 FHI almost three-quarters (73%) of healthcare professionals in emerging economies envisage a future where everybody owns smart devices, software and mobile apps to help manage their health. In developed countries, such as the US and the UK, only 44% think the same.


Brazil has come a long way in the last 20 years when its healthcare reforms led to the establishment of what is today the world’s largest public health system. As pockets of activity are already proving, a wider adoption of smart, connected technologies will continue to boost affordable access to healthcare in a country of people in need of help and support to change their lifestyles for the better.

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