Bridging the gap: an economic case study of the impact and cost effectiveness of comprehensive healthcare intermediaries in rural Mexico

Williamson A, de León LP, Garza FR, Macías V, Flores Navarro H.Health Res Policy Syst. 2020 May 22;18(1):49. doi: 10.1186/s12961-020-00563-3.PMID: 32443970 Free PMC article.



Background: In rural settings where patients face significant structural barriers to accessing healthcare services, the formal existence of government-provided health coverage does not necessarily translate to meaningful care delivery. This paper analyses the effectiveness of an innovative approach to overcome these barriers, the Right to Health Care programme offered by Compañeros en Salud in Chiapas, Mexico. This programme provides comprehensive free coverage of all additional direct and indirect medical costs as well as accompaniment through the medical system. Over 550 patients had participated from 2013 until November 2018.

Methods: Focusing on ten of the most frequently treated conditions, including hernias, cataracts and congenital heart defects, we performed a retrospective case study analysis of the quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) gained from treatment and the cost per QALY for 69 patients. This analysis used disability weights and uncertainty intervals from the Global Burden of Disease study and organisational micro-costing data for each patient. Each patient was compared to their own hypothetical counterfactual health outcome had they not received the secondary and tertiary care required for the specific condition. A mixed methods approach is used to establish this counterfactual baseline, drawing on pre-intervention observations, qualitative interviews and established literature precedent.

Results: The programme was found to deliver an average of 14.4 additional QALYs (95% uncertainty interval 12.4-15.8) without time discounting. The mean cost per QALY over these conditions was $388 USD (95% UI $262-588) at purchasing power parity.

Conclusions: These numbers compare favourably with studies of other health services and international cost per QALY guidelines. They reflect the on-treatment effect for the ten conditions analysed and are presented as a case study indicative of the promise of healthcare intermediaries rather than a definitive assessment of cost-effectiveness. Nonetheless, these results show the potential feasibility and cost effectiveness of a more comprehensive approach to healthcare provision in a resource-limited rural setting.

Trial registration: This study involves economic analysis of a programme facilitating access to public healthcare services. Thus, there was no associated clinical trial to be registered.


Fig. 1 Compañeros en Salud locations


Fig. 2 Patient sample selection process