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Leading experts from the Americas share experiences and lessons learned on eHealth at the Workshop "Monitoring eHealth Policies and Strategies in Latin America",organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and held in Cartagena, Colombia on 18 August 2012.

The experts--who came from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay--agreed that to ensure the successful implementation of telehealth projects it is necessary to have a long-term vision for their sustainability. Developing a national strategy and public policies should be among the first actions taken, they said.

National plans, such as Mexico’s 2007-2012 telehealth plan, play an important role in sustainability since they enable the programs to extend beyond federal changes, said Adrián Pachecok, an engineer with the National Center for Technological Excellence in Health (known by its Spanish acronym CENETEC) of the Secretariat of Health of Mexico. In a presentation by Dr. Jorge Vélez from Colombia’s Center for Telemedicine, the telehealth law and creation of the commission on this issue were presented as progress for that country.

Dr. Héctor Duque, head of the Information and Communications Technologies Department in Colombia’s Ministry of Health and Social Protection, highlighted in his presentation that Colombia’s three priorities relating to eHealth are electronic clinical records, electronic billing, and telehealth. “The first phase of this project, which is probably the most significant, relates to standardization and regulation,” he said.

The Government of Peru is also currently developing standards and integrating information, and there is already a unique registry of health services, said Dr. Walter Curioso, who serves as Director-General of the Office of Statistics and Informatics of the Ministry of Health. In his presentation, Dr. Curioso also emphasized the need to empower citizens in the use of mobile technology; train human resources, not only in the use of information technologies, but also in project management; protect data and privacy; and form interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary groups to develop user-oriented change management strategies. Challenges that Dr. Curioso highlighted included infrastructure development and Internet access.  

Dr. María Beatrix Alkmim, from the Center for Telehealth at the Clinical Hospital of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, explained that 71 million Brazilians reais have already been invested in telehealth over a period of two years, and that they expect to have broadband installed in all public health units in Brazil. She described significant progress in Brazil in the area of medical recordkeeping and telehealth, and also highlighted legislative and political progress related to the use of telehealth in all health care systems.

In the case of Uruguay, infrastructure and policies are already well developed, but aspects of information security need remain to be addressed, said Dr. Selene Indarte, President of the Uruguayan Association for Health Standards. Dr. Indarte also underscored the importance of training for health professionals in the form of graduate and postgraduate studies, and the need to do more work on cultural and organizational change.

On behalf of Mexico, Adrián Pacheco, an engineer at CENETEC, emphasized the creation of collaborative, State, and academic networks in his country as well as federal infrastructure and intersectoral and inter-agency communication, mainly in rural areas. He also spoke of progress related to the national telemedicine network and the national network to promote broadband, practices and trainings conducted in the education sector, use of the Web 2. 0 tools on portals to facilitate contact with citizens, and the development of pilot projects on topics such as pregnancy and chronic diseases using mobile technologies.

Alex Tacuri, an engineer at the Polytechnic School of Chimborazo, Ecuador, presented projects in telemedicine for disease prevention and family planning, telenursing, and telehealth such as the virtual medical training system. He also highlighted progress in electronic medical record-keeping at the Ecuadorian Institute for Social Security, and noted the national telehealth plan as one of Ecuador’s achievements.

At the end of the workshop, the main challenges identified by the participants were summarized, including the need to create an efficient and effective community involving varied stakeholders, including patients; to have tools that facilitate the sharing of lessons learned; to produce and provide access to evidence and information on the topic and best practices developed in countries; and to invest in infrastructure in remote areas, etc. The progress and challenges discussed at this event will be included in the second draft of the report on eHealth in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be published by ECLAC and PAHO.

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