Rwandan startup mTiba, which was founded last year on the AMPION Venture Bus in East Africa, will from next month pilot its doctor-patient facilitation tool, which looks to connect patients in need with doctors abroad.
mTiba was initially formed last November after the six entrepreneurs met on the East African leg of the AMPION Venture Bus. The startup has spent the best part of the last year perfecting its platform, and now plans to launch a pilot programme with 1,000 users in each of Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania from next month.
To use mTiba, a user must register online and fill out a quick questionnaire. The platform then matches the user with an available doctor who will follow them over time. Users can make requests to doctors which will be responded to within 48 hours, with consultations enabled through chat messages, pictures, videos, and audio calls.
“Thanks to mTiba, the users will build a lasting and reliable relationship with a health professional, getting them on track for better advice and better health,” the team said.
“The same doctor will follow patients throughout their medical history, but it will always be possible to change a doctor in case a patient wishes so.”
The pilot is aimed at drawing the conclusions needed for the business case, with the thus far self-funded startup then planning on attracting investment.
Rather than rushing into things, mTiba adopted a thorough approach over the last few months in preparing for the launch of the pilot, engaging in a number of discussions within the medical and startup communities.
“It helped us to conclude on a number of factors which allowed us to simplify and streamline our initial solution and value proposition,” the team said.
mTiba believes technology will enable every citizen to access more specialist healthcare, even in the most rural parts of Africa.
“Access to health insurance and healthcare services remains difficult for the vast majority of Africans. In many African countries, there is one doctor for 10,000 people. In comparison, in the countries in Europe or the Americas the number of doctors is 40 times or more higher for the same number of people,” the team said.
“As a consequence, many Africans live hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic, must wait in long lines upon arrival, and still have to pay a fee which many cannot afford. Others are willing to seek advice from a doctor who has international experience and vaster knowledge than the local healthcare professionals.”
mTiba said these limitations keep people from seeking medical attention, and result in serious complications and even deaths that would have been preventable upon earlier detection.
“In effect, large communities of people have little or no medical data, and the larger medical community are left unaware of the diseases and ailments of certain population groups,” the team said.
On the other hand, the startup believes up to five per cent of doctors in developed countries are willing to participate in projects with a clear social goal if this can be combined with their everyday responsibilities. That is the basis of the mTiba platform. The startup has identified a number of volunteer doctors for the testing phase, and plans to later offer the possibility for doctors to earn a wage while consulting patients on mTiba.
“They will be able to either keep the money earned or to invest it within the microfinancing schemes fostering local entrepreneurship in Africa,” the startup said.
“All in all, we identified that there are patients who are willing to pay a minimal fee to access healthcare, doctors from other continents who are willing to volunteer or to earn some extra income outside of working hours, and organisations seeking to obtain the data that could be used for better mapping of diseases and medical research, as well as better targeting and serving of patients. mTiba simply provides an environment that will allow these stakeholders to connect and support each other.”
Though the pilot will be in English, mTiba will also allow patients and doctors to connect in their native languages, such as Swahili and Kinyarwanda.
“We noted that there are quite a number of doctors out there willing to volunteer who originated from the African countries and emigrated later to practice as healthcare professionals in other parts of the world,” the team said.
On the team’s hit list when it comes to pan-African expansion beyond its initial pilot markets are Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Ivory Coast and Mozambique. Though the patients participating in the pilot will do so for free, mTiba eventually plans to charge a minimal fee to “ensure the platform attracts only those patients who attribute value to the service”.
These charges will allow mTiba to offset recurring operational costs, but the startup has identified three other revenue streams that will bring a return on investment.
The first is partnerships with health insurance companies, with mTiba planning to act as a “gatekeeper service” for health insurance companies.
“Insurance companies will be able to save on first-time consultation costs as most patients will only be directed for a physical visit to the specialist upon consultation online. Such a model is already in place in a number of developed markets such as Switzerland and United States,” the team said.
Big data analysis is a second potential revenue stream, with the startup saying the potential for big data in health is “endless”.
“We believe that it can empower researchers, physicians and healthcare providers to improve patient care in Africa and to deliver support to the right people at the right time. All for better healthcare and a healthier future,” the team said.
The platform also has space for customised advertising, with mTiba saying it may at a later stage decide to make use of certain areas for targeted medical advertisements by third parties.