News & Insights

18 Jul 2017

Here’s Why Healthcare Needs To Focus On Primary Care

By José Gabriel Luque

For every 100 people with insurance in Latin America, we estimate that only 20 will request medical attention in a given calendar year.

Considering the dominant healthcare model in the region is disproportionately focused on disease treatment, that leaves 80 percent of the insured population out of the health care equation.

The worrying implication for healthcare providers and insurance companies is just because they aren’t seeking attention, doesn’t mean they aren’t sick or at high risk. And, we have no real way of knowing what sort of health that demographic is actually in.

What we do know, according to statistics provided by regional regulators, is that insurance companies in Panama and across Central America paid more than half a billion U.S. dollars in medical claims in 2015. Think about that and then imagine the impact of having to multiply those numbers by four or even five.

Don’t forget to factor in the rapid rise of medical inflation while you’re at it.

The consequences of having a population in poor health are legion and they go well beyond the costs of treatment. People’s quality of life, access to education and job opportunities are all affected by the state of their health.

It is in everyone’s interest that we work to build societies that value and promote health and wellness

Primary Care On The Front Lines

If a truly prevention-oriented healthcare model emerges in Latin America, primary care physicians (PCPs) will be its central actors. They are positioned on the front lines, often interacting with patients before any serious medical situation has arisen.

As a result, PCPs can develop the most complete picture of their patient’s overall health. This extremely important in the event of a medical emergency or serious illness that requires specialist care. When different doctors treat the same patient, it’s vital that they are well coordinated and well informed. This is to avoid one treatment adversely impacting another, causing unnecessary complications or worse.

In a personalized healthcare model, the PCP is the orchestra leader keeping all the players in harmony for the benefit of the patient. At the same time, and to push the metaphor further, they’re also responsible for composing the music. They do this by influencing patient behavior and lifestyle choices to favor health optimization.

Fighting Back Against The Leading Causes of Death

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that cancer caused 1 in 6 global deaths in 2015, taking 8.8 million lives. Despite that significant toll, cancer is actually the second leading cause of death and it is considerably outpaced by cardiovascular diseases, which claimed 17.7 million lives.

What makes those numbers so devastating is that many cancers – between 30 and 50 percent according to the WHO – and most cardiovascular diseases are preventable. Placing PCPs at the heart of the healthcare model expands the opportunities for the sort of early intervention that can save lives and make the model itself sustainable, cost effective and efficient.

To download our Personalized Health: An Expanding Opportunity – 2016 PALIG Trends report please click here.

José Gabriel Luque is the Regional Medical Director at Pan-American Life. He is based in Panama.