Firm banks on tech in push for Africa health coverage

Dr Polly Okello, CEO of Medbook Ltd. PHOTO | POOL

Nairobi-based digital health provider Medbook is set to expand its business in the African market after Zep-Re, commonly known as PTA Reinsurance Company, acquired a 30 percent stake in the company this week, becoming the largest shareholder.

Medbook is optimistic that the new funding will help it scale new heights and better serve large insurance companies and hospitals by strengthening their digital infrastructure. It also sees it as a key enabler to boosting innovation, skills development, capacity building and job creation.

“Innovative strategies such as digital health will form a firm foundation for attaining the ambitious universal health coverage in Africa. However, the successful deployment on a wider scale faces several challenges on the continent such as funding,” said Ms Hope Murera, chief executive of Zep-Re.

“We believe that our partnership will unlock Medbook’s growth potential for its wide-scale deployment in Africa.”

Medbook will also benefit from its other investor, German development finance institution Deg, which provides funds from its upscaling programme that supports innovative business models with high development impact.

This is especially prevalent in addressing the inherent access to quality healthcare in Africa. Collaboration between health, information, communication technology and investors remains essential to improving access to healthcare and the achievement of universal health coverage.

“We are excited to close this investment with ZEP-RE and DEG, and we are confident that their investments will foster digital inclusion by increasing access to reliable and quality claims management systems and health management systems to both insurance companies and hospitals,” said Dr Polly Okello, CEO of Medbook.

Petra Kotte, head of Deg’s banking and German business division told Digital Business Africa is witnessing a significant acceleration in digital healthcare transformation and time had come for financiers to support the ecosystem.

“We want to improve the entire health value chain, from patient to doctor and hospital to (re)insurance. The service with a web-based digital data platform contributes to a more efficient health and insurance sector,” he noted.

Medbook runs Mediclaim, an end-to-end insurance claims management software solution that enables health service providers to efficiently process health insurance claims and insurance companies to receive claims on a real time basis.

Claims’ submission and processing using Medbook is paperless which significantly reduces costs of mailing claims which could also lead to lost claims. The software relies on machine learning to detect fraud incidences that have plagued the medical insurance industry.

It has also developed Med360+, an online health management system that can be used in clinics, private practices, health centers and large-scale hospitals to manage the entire patient journey from registration to discharge.

Currently, it has been rolled out in over 250 health facilities across Africa.

Medbook said its operations are user-centric in that patients locate doctors and medical facilities closest to them, book appointments, access their health records and track their medical journey using the Medapp which is integrated to both Mediclaim and Med360+.

The company was established in 2014 as a joint venture between iLabAfrica-Strathmore University and Dr Polly Okello, who was among the pioneers of the digital health care transition in Kenya.

Since then, Medbook has evolved to become a leading digital healthcare and insurtech solutions provider, providing claims management systems to insurance companies and hospital management systems to hospitals. It said its services are used by more than 250 hospitals and 3 million people in Africa.

According to the Kenya Healthcare Federation, the digital healthcare field consists of 41 registered e-health providers who offer diagnostics, prescription, surgery pre-assessments, ultrasound, crowdfunding, pharmaceutical e-commerce, health insurance, doctor-to-doctor consultation and medicine e-learning.

Some of these are Their focus has been the city counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru, cutting off 70 percent of Kenyans who live in the rural areas from their services.

Last year, KMPDC approved 20 hospitals to roll out digital health services amid Covid-19 containment measures but all of them operate from urban centres where internet connectivity is strong enough to allow clear videoconferencing.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), e-health holds great potential for reducing the variability of diagnoses as well as improving clinical management and delivery of health care services worldwide by enhancing access, quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

“Digital health can aid communities traditionally underserved – those in remote or rural areas with few health services and staff – because it overcomes distance and time barriers between health-care providers and patients.”

Across Africa, challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated the creation, testing and adoption of digital health solutions in Africa, according to data from a 2021 study.

The survey, Meeting In The Middle, conducted by Vodafone, Vodacom, Safaricom and Caribou Digital reveals that 41 per cent of internet users in Africa are regularly using their mobile phones to search for health information.

The report reflects a healthcare sector on the right path of transformation, with opportunities to improve health outcomes at a lower cost, indicating that 75 percent of African countries have a digital health strategy in place.

"There is an all-time high of 180 digital health start-ups in Sub Saharan Africa. Covid-19 is playing out within a digital Africa: accelerating demand, testing digital health strategies and plans, and giving rise to new behaviours from consumers with digital access and health concerns," the report reads.

Research has shown consistent positive cost benefits from smartphone health interventions - with a study of peer-reviewed RCT results showing 100 per cent of e-health interventions in Africa have had positive cost benefits.

Alongside the growth of formal government digital health strategies, the informal usage of digital health services and apps has also grown.

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