Radiology Challenges and Trends in Latin America
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Medical imaging providers in LAR are adapting to new workflows.
In the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers in Latin America were presented with new challenges to deliver medical imaging to their patients. Some of the challenges still persist, while others are emerging.
Everything Rad ask three knowledgeable representatives from our Latin American region—Ricardo Martin del Campo Fonseca, regional business manager, Carestream Health; Samuel Siller Ruiz, director, Medica Siller; and Fernando Sales, director, Tiradentes Saúde—about the challenges and trends in medical imaging in LAR for the remainder of 2021.
Everything Rad: What are the top challenges facing medical imaging providers in LAR?
RICARDO: A primary challenge is a need for safer workflows and faster imaging studies with more intelligent and customized systems that can handle the peaks of demand. Another major challenge is the adoption of new digital technology to support telehealth, especially by older generations who have more experience in analog technologies. There’s a significant portion of the population that doesn’t have access to the internet, so the availability and resources needed to support patients this way presents real challenges.
SAMUEL: More imaging centers are moving toward digital radiography. One of the drivers is that it enables remote radiological interpretation by healthcare providers.
FERNANDO: One obstacle is price increases in taxes and the dollar. As an example, there are increased prices for film which is challenging for customers who are looking for cost reductions. Also, there is more competition in healthcare. Patients are looking for better efficiency and service, so there are lots of initiatives surrounding health and patient-care satisfaction.
Everything Rad: How has COVID-19 impacted medical imaging?
RICARDO: COVID-19 fueled growth in the digital imaging market in a number of ways. One, clinical staff needs to have images readily available in the patient room, so portable digital radiography units took a leading role due to their simple and mobile workflows.
Another reason for the increase in the use of our mobile systems is because they help reduce the risk of cross contamination, not only between patients, but also across different areas of hospitals and temporary clinics that were established for the health emergency.
SAMUEL: There was definitely an increase in chest imaging—and much of it was concentrated in CT—with decreases in exams for limbs and lower limbs. The decrease led to the closing of small imaging centers. And everywhere, the workflow changed with respect to the safety protocols required.
FERNANDO: COVID decreased the number of mammography, ultrasound, and MRI exams. But there were more digital tomography and X-ray exams, so workflows were concentrated in those modalities.
Everything Rad: What new modalities or workflows is the market interested in this year, and why?
RICARDO: We continue to see the demand for digital modalities, with a strong preference for Carestream’s mobile units, in addition to our digital upgrades designed for analog systems. These systems allow customers to upgrade their equipment while optimizing their investments. Imaging centers want the benefits of digital technology.
SAMUEL: Mobile equipment and wireless detectors are of high interest, due to COVID-19 issues.
FERNANDO: Our customers are always looking for feature-rich products at an affordable cost. The market also is interested in new modalities and workflows that offer more productivity for exams, so that they can use them outside clinics and hospitals—basically, modalities that reduce the need for patients to go to a clinic or hospital.
Everything Rad: What questions about COVID-19 and imaging are you hearing the most?
RICARDO: There were three main concerns at the beginning of the pandemic. First was about proper procedures for cleaning and disinfecting equipment to help avoid cross contamination (1). The second was about the software support Carestream could provide, such as our pneumothorax and bone suppression software, to help doctors provide faster and more accurate diagnoses. And the third was about the availability of our mobile systems. The demand for mobile units tripled and there was certainly a shortage of components globally.
SAMUEL: At the end of the day, people weren’t asking us about COVID-19. They were basically focused on the new health regulations and protocols surrounding the virus to avoid contagion.
FERNANDO: Most of the questions we’re hearing are about what’s ahead in imaging technology solutions for COVID-19 and other exams.
Everything Rad: What new or upcoming regulations in LAR will have impact on medical imaging?
RICARDO: The priority for local governments continues to be tracking COVID-19 cases. There was a lot of concern about hospital capacity, so another priority is establishing vaccination plans across the countries in the region.
In addition, there is a lot of focus on public healthcare, which is driven by an increase in budgets to equip and upgrade medical technologies to better serve patients and increase the number of beds in each region or country.
SAMUEL: We believe that the regulations of Cofepris and the Secretary of Health, which regulate hospitals and smaller imaging centers, will become much more strict. The new regulations for traditional and mobile X-ray equipment will be maintained to help with COVID-19 patients, which will have economic impacts. In some cases, the regulations will also have economic effects on imaging centers and their staff, especially smaller centers, because the new regulations require extra steps in workflows for infection control.
FERNANDO: The new and upcoming regulations will allow for more procedures to take place outside of clinics and hospitals, and there will be new tools for these.
Everything Rad: How is COVID-19 impacting your interactions with healthcare providers? How are you accommodating their concerns at this time?
RICARDO: An important part of our interactions continues to be virtual, through mobile applications such as WhatsApp, which has always been popular. But due to COVID-19, we have used more tools, including video, to deliver personalized experiences to our customers. On the other hand, we are beginning to notice a new reality, in which the personal interactions with our clients are returning. We are taking all the available safety measures. It seems that the new norm will be a combination of virtual and personal interactions, with clients and for educational activities.
SAMUEL: Interaction has definitely changed—part of it is digital and via telephone, of course. But the protocols for visiting customers have become more rigid and difficult. As long as we delivery quality equipment on time and use the established safety protocols, our customers are satisfied.
FERNANDO: COVID-19 has changed the way we work with our customers, because none of them allowed us to visit them in clinics and hospitals. But we definitely used other wats to maintain our relationships, using remote presentations by computer, cell phone and others.
Everything Rad: What do you think will be the lasting changes of COVID-19 in medical imaging?
RICARDO: It seems that the rapid adoption of digital technology has arrived and occupied a permanent place in the market, whereas before there was a gap between analog and digital, and customers were hesitant to change. But the pandemic made the benefits visible. It helped provide the fast and streamlined workflows that clinicians needed, along with software support to help with clinical decisions, dose reduction and image quality. Another big change is the level of attention to biosecurity, this will be a decisive factor in solutions throughout the market.
SAMUEL: As long as COVID-19 is with us, printing may increase, because radiology exams are necessary for diagnosis.
FERNANDO: I think customers will continue to make investments in technology—in equipment and other products for medical imaging.
Editor’s note: It’s clear that digital and mobile radiology devices are truly having their moment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—and that they’re increasingly being adopted by customers in Latin America. Recent research backs this up. The Modor Intelligence report, “South America Portal X-ray Devices Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021-2026). states that:
“In the present scenario, the adoption rate of digital X-ray systems is not (or close to) 100%, in spite of their advantages over analog systems. However, this scenario is expected to change soon, and the X-ray devices market is likely to be almost completely dominated by digital X-ray systems in the future.” (2)
The Modor report also points out that the increase in the geriatric population is helping to drive this growth in digital radiology—which is a key factor in populations worldwide.
- Key Trends Shaping the Future of Radiology
- Benefits of Mobile Imaging
- Resuming Routine Radiology Care During COVID-19
- Disinfectant Guidelines for Carestream Products