Designed the counterbalance the economically polarized health care system in Kenya, ConnectMed is an online medical consultation startup. It works by matching less skilled healthcare workers, who are more easily accessible and larger in number with local patients who are suffering from uncomplicated, manageable medical cases.
These patients are not required to have a smartphone or internet access in order to use the services and services are provided at a fraction of the cost of many private healthcare companies. Patients can browse through doctors by accessing the profiles provided on ConnectMed's website. Once a suitable match is determined, patients can view statistics on the desired practitioner (a little like a medical Tinder), which includes their specialties, training, background and a small headshot.
So how does it work? Patients stop by their local pharmacy to book a 15-minute virtual consultation on the tablets or computers provided. The location of these pharmacies can be found using Google Maps or directly on ConnectMed's website.
The healthcare workers are available 8 am to 11 pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and can diagnose ailments, prescribe medicine or refer patients to a specialist all through an online interface. As soon as the consultation is finalized, patients are able to access the doctor's notes and their prescriptions. Patients can choose to have their prescription delivered to their inbox where they can later fill it at their preferred pharmacy.
How does it give back? Besides training lower skilled to handle more complicated medical ailments, ConnectMed also cuts cost for the average Kenyan. The services cost just KSh 500 for each visit (less than $5.00 or about € 4.10) and there are no subscriptions required so they only pay as they need.
The lower cost is achieved through cooperation with clinics and NGOs as well as partnerships with local pharmacies. ConnectMed is also planning to expand beyond just treating common ailments and is progressing towards a healthcare management system where patients have access to symptom checkers, vital sign detectors and an interactive dashboard that allows them to check their progress, treatments and test results.
Patients may also choose to have their prescriptions fulfilled and delivered by a company called MYDAWA. MYDAWA, who ConnectMed has partnered with, provides low cost, genuine quality prescription medicines, which can be requested through mobile apps.
The most frequently treated morbidities that ConnectMed addresses include: cold and flu symptoms, cough, sinus infections, sore throats, urinary tract infections, vomiting/diarrhea, back pain, sporting injuries, headaches, allergies, gastric problems, insomnia, skin conditions, anxiety, and depression.
This means that a wide variety of illness, which could easily progress into preventable comorbidities, can be addressed before it's too late. It also means that patients no longer have to pay out to expensive private insurance companies and that private insurance companies are in turn incentivized to offer more competitive rates and services.
The technology is continuously tested and reevaluated for improvement and the apps and site are designed for low-bandwidth environments. This means that they are still easily accessible for older devices or areas with unstable internet connections. The company also teams up with experts in machine learning and computer science to ensure that the app and site run proficiently.
Is it safe? A legitimate concern for both those who've never used this kind of service and those who are worried that incompetent services and care are often delivered to poorer regions of the world is that this is not safe.
According to the IHS Markit, a company that conducts research on technology trends, the number of video consultations in the United States with primary health care providers will double in five years to nearly 27 million. Like in Kenya, video health consultations in the US are used to forgo much more expensive trips to the doctor and create a pattern for feasible management of common ailment and chronic health concerns.
This saves patients money in the short term but also in the long term, as non-adherence to doctors’ medical advice and failure to seek preventative care culminates to more frequent emergency room visits.
Though currently only located in Nairobi, ConnectMed is looking to spread to other doctor-scarce regions, meaning many who have put off seeing a doctor for practical reasons (like unreliable transportation) would access to care.
They also provide a forum through their Facebook and Twitter pages that allow users to ask embarrassing health questions by text for free and privately. This works to create an environment where health issues are no longer put off due to issues like embarrassment, doctor scarcity, poor or no transportation or fear of humiliation. It will be interesting to see the development of such an amazing startup working diligently to help so many!
Photo by Tarn Hildreth on Unsplash