Teledoctor – Developing an “Uber for Health”
In this interview we talked to the founders of Rockstart’s 2016 Digital Health startup Teledoctor from Zambia. Doctor and co-founder Sam Musariri joined forces with Abel Mwale, Kelvin Aongola and Wilfred Sakala to create a platform that gives people in Africa the opportunity to connect with medical specialists in real time. Teledoctor allows patients to voice their medical concerns and questions to a professional doctor over the phone.
In many African countries there is a critical shortage of healthcare personnel. As the training of doctors, nurses and different health care specialists is expensive and takes a long time, Teledoctor aims at maximizing capacity by allowing the few healthcare workers that are already there to provide consultancy to clients that need to talk to a specialist in any field.
“We look at it as an Uber for health”
Sam is a trained doctor currently specialized in medical informatics. Sam explains “It is my passion to use technology to provide solutions for healthcare problems. We need to look at already existing problems that technology can help us solve.” Co-founder and CEO Abel is also a doctor specialized in critical care. Apart from his tasks as CEO, Abel mainly concerns himself with connecting with the patients, creating trustworthy relationships and adhering to the patients’ needs as their professional doctor.
The non-medical section of Teledoctor is led by Kelvin and Wilfred. Kelvin is in charge of all technology related issues, translating the results of brainstorming sessions into code to create and maintain the digital platform. On the other side, Wilfred manages all business related affairs. As an experienced business executive with a lot of history in different enterprises, his main task consists of developing the business model and establishing ways to generate revenue.
The idea for Teledoctor started to develop as doctors Sam and Abel noticed the overwhelming need for people to speak to a doctor about their medical concerns. Sam explains, “we saw a lot of patients coming to the hospital who were clueless about very common health care conditions. That’s why Abel and I started to publish and distribute a newsletter educating the patients about health. As that gained momentum, we realized that we were educating people about health information in a very periodic manner. We came up with the idea to create something that provides real time health information. That’s when we came up with creating a real time platform that people can use to speak with a doctor.”
“We want every single African to have access to a doctor by using their phone”
Teledoctor began as a platform that could be accessed by any phone; meaning that owning a smartphone was not a necessity. Sam explains that they worked with telecoms who gave them short code, a very simple number that people could call and have their medical questions be heard and answered. The payment for the service was deducted from the credit on the phone. Sam adds that although this is how their idea started out, they are working towards developing Teledoctor “into a smartphone based application platform because it’s easier to scale and take it to other countries”.
According to a CNN article, a report by Afro Barometer concluded that less than one in three Africans have access to a draining system, and only 63% have piped water. However, 93% of Africans have access to cell phone service. With most Africans having access, Mobile phones play a decisive role in the country’s development. Teledoctor hopes to use this technological progression in order to educate patients on health information.
“Our main goal is to create equitable access to medical doctors on a real time basis”
At first Teledoctor worked towards targeting the 500 million mobile phone users in Africa. As work with Rockstart progressed, Sam explains “we narrowed down our customer segment to target low income, middle class families. They are slightly above the age of 30 and are starting to have children, making access to a doctor a necessity. People below 30 usually don’t feel like they need a doctor so they don’t require as much advice.”
Like every startup, Teledoctor has encountered challenges throughout their evolution. Since the people targeted do not have a lot of disposable income, Sam adds that coming up with a business model on how to charge their clients and exploring how much they are willing to pay, has been the most challenging complication Rockstart is helping Teledoctor to clarify.
Rockstart is also connecting Teledoctor to other startups and professionals who are passionate about using technology to solve health related problems as well. Sam explains that, before joining an accelerator, you should make sure you bring value to the program and they bring value to you. Evaluate carefully whether the relationship can develop into a symbiosis.
“Rockstart’s ecosystem, mentors and networks allow us to achieve anything we want to,” he said. “From the onset we loved the fact that the program is just focused on health. In addition to the support, we are given access to people that share our passion for health. Interacting with people who have global access has immeasurable value.”
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