A tele-health company that enables customers to access affordable, high quality and convenient healthcare from the comfort of their homes
By Catherine Kuria
The term technology is not foreign to many. Experts spend hours on end behind computer screens trying to come up with better applications that will outdo the previous ones. Social media applications, money transfer platforms, dating and gaming applications have been invented and are quite common. Heck, even toddlers are familiar with them. Medical applications however, are still fairly new in the market.
We are living in the digital era where everything including food and clothing can be ordered online from the comfort of your living room. How cool is it that you can now access your doctor while still in bed? Connect Med is a tele-health company focusing on the African continent and striving to bring primary healthcare to patients in a more affordable way. It provides a simple, affordable, all-inclusive package for managing chronic diseases.
Health consultation and coaching is delivered virtually through a smart phone app, in combination with medication and point-of-care testing at a local pharmacy partner. The company’s core offering is chronic disease management programmes that enable patients with diabetes, hypertension and heart conditions to manage them more effectively and affordably through online consultation with doctors and virtual coaching with nutritionists.
Technology in the European, American and Asian markets has revolutionized the way patients access healthcare by reducing cost and improving quality. Borrowing a leaf from them, Melissa McCoy saw this as an opportunity to bring the same online, affordable and quality healthcare to developing countries especially in the African continent. She introduced the context in South Africa initially and later expanded to Kenya in 2016.
“It’s a challenging market because it’s hard to figure out how to introduce a product that the patient with a low income is willing to pay for. But nonetheless, we have worked through certain obstacles like learning the patients’ behaviour and have adjusted with the market demands quite well to fit the needs of the patients,” narrates Ms. McCoy.
The company’s offering includes disease management programmes for patients with hypertension, diabetes and heart conditions. It also provides therapy where its coaches guide patients on proper nutrition and exercise and how to manage their conditions better hence enabling them to live a longer and healthier life. Doctors do virtual consultations with the patients every month to follow up on their conditions, see whether the medications are working and change the prescriptions where needed.
The company’s doctors are available 24 hours a day and it’s convenient for patients to access its services. Its services are quite affordable compared to other private clinics. The hypertension programme for instance costs from Kshs. 1,000 to 1,400 for the first month. Here the patient is introduced to the right medical, diet and exercise programme. There after it’s around Kshs. 500 to cover the medication cost.
For diabetes it ranges between Kshs. 1,500 to 2,000 in the first month for titration, then thereafter it becomes Kshs. 1,000 for medication, stripes and other educational benefits. Currently, the company’s focus is on the South African and Kenyan markets but in the future, it is planning on expanding to other African markets.
“Initially when I started the company it was part of my masters’ computer science thesis project in Oxford. It involved a lot of user research and interviews with doctors and patients, understanding whether virtual communication works for them as well as the costs and constraints that they face. Thereafter I built a platform where I was getting direct user feedback from focus groups and customers,” says Ms. McCoy. Other than being convenient and cost effective, Connect Med provides the patients with very personalized services, tailor made to suit their needs.
One of the challenges encountered by Connect Med is the passive behaviour of clients. “Patients especially the older generation are used to seeing the doctor physically. Hence when you introduce the new concept of virtual communication they don’t quite get it,” laments Ms. McCoy. Getting people to come on board and buy its idea of affordable and convenient healthcare at the comfort of their homes also has not been a walk in the park.
There are a lot of sceptical views surrounding online services. “Getting people to have faith in you and trust that you are not going to fail them is hard,” she further points out. The invasion of fake doctors is not helping the business either. Connect Med has strived to build a credible brand. The company is working hard to create a bond with clients in order to earn their trust and confidence.
“Getting a person who earns a below average monthly income to prioritize health care is difficult. People have more urgent bills to pay and thus they end up compromising on health care. Educating people on the seriousness of chronic illnesses has borne little fruits which is saddening because these diseases are fatal,” she further laments.
The Connect Med team is working hard on bringing awareness to people about their brand. They have developed a partnership with Nairobi County government for instance to facilitate screenings within the Central Business District (CBD) and its environs. They are also working on their online presence because their services are digital bearing in mind that internet is one of the cheapest and fastest medium of communication these days. They have also signed a partnership with Jubilee Insurance that to create further awareness.
According to Ms. McCoy, the popular trend in business has been provider-consumer tele-medicine as opposed to provider-provide which was the initial method. The last decade has seen an increase in the provider and consumer interaction. That is the trend that Connect Med wanted to capitalize on in Africa by bringing convenience in accessing health care services to consumers.
Health care providers are going digital because of the hype surrounding online services. The data gathered by studying the behaviour of patients is helping them improve their service to suit the patients’ needs. Tele-health care providers are also working with government bodies especially in the United Kingdom and the United States to enable citizens to access virtual consultations under the national health schemes. This has helped reduce the cost of accessing quality health care on the ordinary citizen.
Most of these chronic diseases are brought about by lifestyle changes. People are eating unhealthy food and not working out due to their busy schedules. This has brought about the increment in obesity and weight gain cases. Connect Med is therefore planning to introduce a weight loss programme to assist in curbing this epidemic. It will be targeting people living in the urban areas because they are the most affected. Its focus will be on proper nutrition and fitness.
In the next five years, the company is planning to expand its product offering to include treatment programes for other diseases like asthma and arthritis. It also wants to expand geographically to the cover the West African market especially Nigeria. Moreover, it is planning to create a solid platform and build a stronger customer base. “Universal healthcare is a core focus on the government’s Big Four agenda. Stakeholders are coming together to make this a reality. I’m excited to see what the future has in store for us,” she ends.