Mexican platform advances digital diagnostics in Latin America

With different types of cancer running through three generations of his family, 22-year-old tech entrepreneur Julian Rios Cantu wasn’t surprised when his own genome sequencing revealed a predisposition to the disease. Explaining how he came to found Eva, a Mexican health-tech start-up, he says: “Cancer has been a constant in my life. As someone who will eventually face it, my mission is very personal.

Cantu was 16 when he and three friends designed a high-tech bra to help women self-diagnose breast cancer. The garment contains biosensors that map and monitor heat in the breast, indicating potentially malignant masses.

Their business faced obstacles to growth, such as the high cost of large-scale bra production. So they decided to apply the technology in a clinical setting. By 2020, Eva had built a network of 15 booths in Mexico to perform thermal imaging tests that give results in 10 minutes.

But, as in-person medical appointments moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cantu and his partners closed diagnostic booths and directed the start-up’s attention to the gap between supply and demand for image-based medical diagnostics. Since August 2021, Eva has been committed to improving patient outcomes and increasing clinic efficiency by digitizing radiology processes.

“While managing the clinics, we have noticed a lack of radiologists: we only have around 7,500 [in Mexico] for a population of 120 million, and it gets worse outside the big cities,” Cantu says. He also says that much of the hardware and software that clinics use for diagnostics is outdated and expensive.

More than 100 companies, mostly mid-sized clinics, now use Eva’s Picture Archiving and Communication System (Pacs) to view, analyze, report and send results to patients and their physicians via email or whatsapp. Images are captured by the clinics own equipment, with Pacs sending them to the cloud, along with clinically relevant reports.

The platform allows physicians to reduce paperwork because radiology reports can be viewed digitally. Images can be zoomed and rotated, allowing for better interpretation and analysis. By digitizing the testing process, Eva says her services are significantly cheaper than using physical imaging plates.

Radiologists can operate remotely through Eva as service providers, which also reduces time to results. As part of her social impact initiatives, Eva also partners with nonprofit organizations to capture images of patients in remote communities and use the startup’s system for treatment and diagnosis. “We can deliver results within 48 hours – users in underserved areas typically have to wait a month or more,” Cantu says.

Backed by investors such as Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator and Latin America-focused venture capital group Kaszek Ventures, Eva has raised over $12 million in funding since its inception. Currently employing 25 people, it is aiming to expand into Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America this year.

Despite developments in areas such as telecare and digital diagnostics, access to health care in Mexico remains difficult, says Sonia López Álvarez, physician and executive director of the Mexican Society of Public Health (SMSP). “We are very far from providing universal care,” she says.

López Álvarez highlights a disconnect between healthcare platforms that is hampering progress. “Public and private systems use multiple platforms that do not communicate with each other. This negatively impacts patient outcomes because their information is everywhere,” she says.

“It takes political will to address these issues and focus on training more doctors in technologies to improve care. The public should also know what [health] the technology is there and how it can be used to help.

Eva plans to leverage automation to help radiologists save time, as well as management systems to address issues such as lack of interoperability, Cantu says.

He says Eva takes data privacy seriously and the company adheres to US standards for sensitive information. “Latin America doesn’t demand this level of data management sophistication — we do it because we think it’s right,” he says. “Well-capitalized companies like mine have a responsibility [to comply with] Data protection.”

Mexico does not have a problem with data protection, Cantu says, but with accessibility to health services. “People are dying in hospital corridors without proper care, or at home for lack of medicine,” he says. “You can not [focus on] confidentiality of data when people do not receive dignified health care.

For this reason, Cantu suggests that developing countries should be careful to “imitate” data privacy frameworks in the United States and Europe. “What we can’t end up with is regulation that shoots us in the foot in terms of delivering better healthcare to people.”