Airtel Kenya is set to reap from the emerging tech-health ecosystem

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Gadgets are no longer much of a sensation in the technology world as it is a smart services. Today, it is not about the colour, design or even make of a gadget but what it can do for you. One of the services looking up for tech users is health. It all started with the rollout of several smart wearables such as the Samsung Gear and others meant to monitor health and fitness parameters including heart rate, calories burnt,  and miles walked and the proliferation of health Apps for monitoring and reporting several sickness related symptoms to health facilities, doctors, and medics.

The significance of tech-health ecosystem in the Western world can be seen by the amount of funding the sector has received since 2010. InformationWeek summarized the interests Venture Capitalists have in tech startups in the US as follows:

Investors poured billions of dollars into health technology startups in 2014, fueling companies that plan to reshape everything from clinical trials to analytics to payment processes.

In 2013, funding for digital health reached $2.83 billion across 578 deals, compared with $999 million for 139 deals in 2010, according to HIT Consultant. Digital health funding skyrocketed to $5.3 billion for the first three quarters of this year, HIT Consultant reported.

“There was over $400 million dollars of VC financing for mobile health in just the first quarter of the year,” BridgeCrest CEO Nathan Klarer told InformationWeek.

All this healthcare money comes from multiple sources. Venture capital firms that invest in at least 10 healthcare companies and reap 50% or more of their deals in this vertical include OrbiMed Advisors, Alta Partners, Versant Ventures, SV Life Sciences, and VenBIO, while other VCs with broader investments continue to fuel medical-oriented technology firms. Healthcare organizations — such as GE, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, and CVS — are investing in startups, while mainstream technology businesses like Google and Apple are funneling money into young healthcare companies. Even regions are getting into the act, setting up investment hubs that spotlight healthcare startups in cities including Philadelphia, Boston, and Manhattan.

Although serious startups interested in addressing the health problems are yet to be seen in Kenya, there are a few Apps that have been setup to help ordinary Kenyans access affordable health services. The big corporates like Safaricom have also tried to provide essential medical consultation services via products such as the Safaricom’s Daktari 1525. With Safaricom’s Daktari, one can dial 1525 to talk to a doctor regarding various health related issues and receive advice accordingly; although the advice would not include diagnosis nor prescriptions.

Airtel Kenya also want to be part of the new tech-health ecosystem and as such has partnered with Medanta Africare  to allow its subscribers access relevant health care advice by calling 1525 at normal calling rates from their mobile phones. This service will be available daily from 8am to 8pm. The point of divergence from Safaricom’s Daktari is in the range of services on offer (see below) and the standard call rate; as with Safaricom’s Daktari, one is charged an extra Shs 20 per call.

The move is a complement of the growing health conscious population that is always looking for solutions that offer convenience. Mobile technology remains the most powerful  communications platforms which is why the Airtel Kenya has the opportunity to offer a service that health service seekers can access medical care not only in high end health facilities but also low end facilities.

In order to ensure that the service delivers accurate medical diagnosis, Medanta Africare has stationed well trained staff members who will be attending to customer calls and recommend solutions to respective doctors in the hospital for relevant action to be taken. Additionally, all medical consultants will be supported by a world-class technology solution that will help them examine customers’ medical cases in the most effective manner.

The mHealth services which will be piloted in Nairobi will also allow all Airtel Kenya customers to access health services at home at pre-defined rates and get second opinion on  diagnosis from specialists in Medanta India through Medanta’ s Telemedicine Centre in Nairobi. Additionally, the following benefits will be extended to all Airtel Premier customers

i. Pathology: 20%  discount for customers who pay on cash basis.

ii. Radiology services: 20% discount for customers who pay cash.

iii. Dental Consultation: Kshs.1,200 discount for customers who pay cash.

iv. Doctor’s consultation: 1 free consultation a year for subsequent reviews.

v. health check at 10% discount per year (as this is already discounted)

vi. Telemedicine consultation with Medicity: 50% Discount

vii.  Home collection of samples if within 5 km radius from main facility.

viii. Pharmacy Medicine: 10% discount on all medicine purchased from the premises

ix. Specialist consultation at main facility: 20% discount

The openness of the Kenyan market to tech products and services for addressing various health concerns is yet to be quantified. Adoption of technologies such as smart wearables to track sleep patterns, monitor heart performance or even organize cooking/eating schedule to ensure less carbohydrates are consumed is at the very low end. On the flip side, most Kenyans are becoming conscious of terminal health diseases such as cancer and heart related complications, thus it could be argued that Kenyans are ready to consume health products and services that have been tailored to meet their unique health needs.

Safaricom’s Daktari 1525 hasn’t been as successful as was anticipated, neither did as many Kenyans as initially thought register for the Safaricom’s Linda Jamii insurance product (see Linda Jamii is another plus from Safaricom), and most probably the failure of these health oriented products are due to inability of the corporate world to meet Kenyans at their unique points of needs same way Airtime Vouchers and M-PESA did.

The structuring of Airtel’s mHealth might see  a significant number of Kenyans use the service as the initial cost associated with calling 1525 is set at the normal calling rate (just in case Safaricom’s shs 20 was way too high for subscribers to rhyme with). In addition, the added range of services one can access by calling 1525 from Airtel number, although some of the services will require additional charges, may well be what the subscribers were waiting for to effectively utilize the mobile phone based medical consultation service.

In my opinion mHealth by Airtel Kenya might just follow the “no success” route of Safaricom Daktari 1525 simply because this service seems to be tailored for the high end market. To reach the masses, services such as these ought to work hand in hand with the several initiatives that target to provide quality health services to all Kenyans. One such initiative is the mobile clinic.

One would argue that corporates such as Airtel or even Safaricom cannot venture into the low-class market segment with health related products, but it is always good to remember that these corporates already run Corporate Responsibility Initiatives like Safaricom Foundation. If mHealth doesn’t pick up as one would expect, it will be up to Airtel Kenya to restructure the initiative to target most Kenyans with mobile phones, majority of whom cannot afford to pay consultations fees as low as Shs 300.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Winfred Kuria
Winfred Kuria is a self-constituted web content writer in charge of Tech News and Events Publicity at Kachwanya.com. She will communicate in the simplest way possible with an aim of changing the world one mind at a time.
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