One of the biggest challenges for public health systems in Latin America and the Caribbean is the rise of chronic and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Overwhelmed by growing demand, public primary care units and hospitals are unable to provide timely diagnostic services such as blood tests and mammograms that would allow low-income patients to identify and treat their conditions.
The result is that it has become commonplace for these patients to seek medical care at emergency rooms in public hospitals after their condition has become life-threatening and expensive to treat. With support from the IDB, Salud Digna Para Todos (Health with Dignity for All), a Mexican non-profit organization, is showing how to break this vicious cycle by providing preventive care at affordable prices.
Founded in 2003, Salud Digna provides diagnostic services that are accessible to low-income Mexicans, enabling patients to seek early treatment, improve their chances of survival, and avoid costly medical interventions that could strain their personal finances as well as those of the public health system.
The organization offers laboratory tests, diagnostic tests, radiology screening, and optical exams. It charges only about a third of what other Mexican providers charge. According to a Harvard Business School case study, Salud Digna can apply such a small margin over the services provided in part because it has established partnerships with suppliers to get discounts on the prices of materials and equipment.
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Sophisticated Scheduling System Saves time and Improves Care
The organization has developed a sophisticated scheduling system that enables it to see patients with shorter waiting times than those at social security or public healthcare facilities. It has also adopted a cross-selling strategy by offering patients health packages. This allows Salud Digna to provide services cheaply while also improving the quality of services for patients. For example, one of the most popular packages designed for women includes bone densitometry, mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and pap smear tests.
Today, Salud Digna operates 17 diagnostic clinics in five states in Mexico and receives diagnostic referrals from the social security and public healthcare systems. In 2011, more than 1 million Mexicans directly benefited from more than 2 million diagnostic services provided at Salud Digna clinics.
The IDB loan will help finance the opening of 38 new diagnostic clinics over the next five years, tripling the organization’s current network. In addition, technical assistance provided to Salud Digna through the Korean Fund for Poverty Reduction will enable it to better assess demand, target the location of its new clinics, and adopt measures to improve service delivery and cost-effectiveness as it scales up its operations.
The IDB-financed project is expected to benefit an average of 2.5 million patients a year by helping Salud Digna provide affordable and timely health diagnostic studies. Many of those beneficiaries may otherwise have ended up in an emergency room when it was too late to prevent or treat their illness.