Entrepreneurs create innovative patient-centric digital platform
First published in Daily Maverick 168
A nurse-led private clinic based on a distinct digital platform aims to tackle chronic diseases and bridge the SA healthcare sector’s socioeconomic gap.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancer account f0r 70% of deaths.
WHO estimates that a mere 16% of the South African population can afford private healthcare, leaving 84% dependent on an under-resourced public healthcare system that is riddled with corruption and fraud.
With the cost of private healthcare out of reach for many, the need for affordable and patient-centred healthcare is imperative.
A new type of nurse-led private clinic (Alma Clinics) based on a distinct digital platform (Abeocare) aims to tackle chronic diseases and bridge the socioeconomic gap of the healthcare sector in South Africa.
Founded by entrepreneur Sibongile Manganyi-Rath and data/IT specialist Marcello Di Maulo, the clinic focuses on empowering patients and nurses through preventative medicine that uses technology to improve efficiencies and remove human error.
“To build a preventative healthcare system at a primary level is pivotal; however, that requires the patient to take ownership of their health journey. Alma Clinics’ core focus is patient empowerment leveraging technology to increase health literacy through our user-friendly two-sided app, Abeocare,” says Manganyi-Rath.
To counter lack of knowledge of chronic diseases, Alma Clinics empowers nurses to be more involved in the primary healthcare system. Abeocare is the clinical support platform upon which the clinic functions.
“The process required us to understand key fundamental challenges facing the healthcare system at global scale; this was important because we wanted to ensure we designed a solution that will create value at multistakeholder level,” says Di Maulo.
Manganyi-Rath says because their business model is built on creating greater equity in the healthcare system, the decision was made to build the first Alma Clinic in Soweto – South Africa’s oldest and largest township.
“Soweto is also unique due to its higher density of elderly population affected by noncommunicable disease,” adds Manganyi-Rath, who grew up in Soweto.
Patients are able to use medical aid and the cost of a full medical examination, including testing for glucose and cholesterol levels as well as providing basic medication, is R220, while pensioners pay R180. According to a Business Insight report, this is well below the average of R426, which often excludes testing and medication fees.
Di Maulo says what sets Abeocare apart from other digital health platforms is that it does not require large, traditional onsite servers because it is a cloud-based solution. A digital infrastructure keeps costs down.
Once the patient arrives, a profile is created and they are examined by our auxiliary nurse, who checks all their vitals and tests their glucose and cholesterol levels. We want to have a full picture of their health.
Medical machines automatically upload test results to the Abeocare application for time efficiency and to avoid human error. The application stores all the patient’s medical information, including medical history and test results. Patients are able to access information on how to manage their conditions and connect with nurses and doctors.
An elderly patient (anonymous) visiting the clinic with her grandson tells DM168 that the low pensioner costs and quality care have “saved my life”.
Cutting costs does not mean cutting back on quality care. The Alma Clinic in Soweto is well kept and offers best practice standards. The clinic has a stocked pharmacy and the latest medical equipment, including an ECG machine. Upon arrival, patients are screened for Covid-19 symptoms.
“Once the patient arrives, a profile is created and they are examined by our auxiliary nurse, who checks all their vitals and tests their glucose and cholesterol levels. We want to have a full picture of their health,” says Alma Clinics’ acting clinical manager, Maureen Mphatsoe.
The average consultation takes 15 minutes and patients receive immediate feedback.
The clinic is staffed by two auxiliary nurses, a clinical associate, a receptionist, and an on-site IT manager.
“Because the software is so new, it does have a learning curve, but it is manageable and we are confident that it will not be long until it is fully integrated [with all the testing equipment],” says IT manager Kea Maputle.
The clinic is equipped to perform minor procedures and to stabilise patients.
“The differentiating angle is that we try to be as proactive and predictive as possible,” says Mphatsoe. “We want our patients to feel that they are understood, and we help them manage their own conditions. We work with other NGOs that provide training on a healthy lifestyle and we also do fitness activities on Saturdays.
“However, the location is quite small, they need a larger space so that people can come in and be more relaxed. At the moment they are located in a shopping centre and speaking on behalf of the elderly people we work with, the centre is not very safe. For example, people there drive recklessly and pensioners can easily be hit by a car.
“I feel that they need a special place to offer a safer space and to be recognised for the wonderful work that they are doing.”
Manganyi-Rath and Di Maulo have recently secured investment to scale up clinics to 45 in the next five years in South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana. DM/DM168