Healthcare technology refers to any IT tools or software designed to boost hospital and administrative productivity, provide new insights into medicine and treatments, or improve the overall quality of care provided. Today’s healthcare industry is a $2 trillion behemoth at a crossroads. The industry is looking for ways to improve in nearly every imaginable area. That’s where health-tech comes in. Tech-infused tools are being integrated into every step of our healthcare experience to counteract two key trouble spots: quality and efficiency.
Epione.net, Youth Connekt Zim’s Virtual Start-up Tour Bus first runner up, is a health-tech solution aiming to revolutionise the public and private healthcare sector by creating a secure platform which connects patients, healthcare professionals, hospital facilities, diagnostics centres and healthcare funders, to promote a seamless continuum of collaborative care. The value of their platform is that it really empowers the individual with ownership and knowledge of their healthcare information by optimising the processes for the rest of healthcare value chain stakeholders. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital channels to support our healthcare sector have become even more crucial. As such, Epione.net have enhanced their platform and patient mobile application to equip users with the tools to support the tracking, tracing, processing and monitoring (self-monitoring and mass monitoring), of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases, in line with WHO and CDC guidelines.
Epione.net is particularly cognisant of supporting a government’s response to COVID-19 and have designed features specifically to support a government in managing its response to COVID-19. These features will enable a government to fully digitise any mass screenings; ensure more effective channelling of patients to public and private sector doctors, testing sites and isolation centres electronically – all while gaining valuable population health data and insights to assist with planning and resourcing. For such an incredible and insightful venture one has to truly wonder how the journey began. The Epione.net team genuinely believe that it is fate (and timing!) which brought them together as a collective.
Epione.net started as an embedded solution to another challenge that one of the founders, Gazah, was trying to solve. Gazah who leads the overall strategy and vision of the business is an investment professional and entrepreneur with over 12 years’ experience investing in and transforming businesses in Africa and the rest of the world. Gazah realized that technology in healthcare, it turned out, had not advanced to the levels Gazah had initially assumed. Upon creating a model connecting surgeons to hospitals to optimise the usage of theatre space, a marketplace for theatre space was required to complete the puzzle. After searching far and wide, including having numerous conversations with some of the most prominent healthcare technology companies in the US, it became clear there was no such thing as a ‘marketplace for theatre space’. Thus the process of scoping such a platform began – including a lot of drawings on napkins during coffee breaks!
As part of this initial scoping, Gazah consulted a technology house in Johannesburg which reaffirmed his decision to develop this solution in-house. At first the idea was to connect surgeons to theatre space but upon realising that other inefficiencies exist along the healthcare value chain, the platform scoping expanded to include the referral channel from the primary care clinicians to all other providers of care, and the transfer of patient data between concerned caregivers. Ultimately, the goal was to enable patients to access healthcare at their fingertips and eventually own their healthcare information. Indeed, this vision stretched beyond country borders; a person in Nigeria should be able to seek healthcare in South Africa and have their surgery done in Kenya – a truly connected healthcare world.
As the idea and scope evolved, it became apparent to Gazah that additional core skills were required to move from concept to execution.Enter Farai into the picture. With a background of implementing healthcare technology solutions for Netcare in South Africa and a passion for entrepreneurship, Farai had the right profile to complement Gazah’s skills set and the first partnership was cultivated. Farai now leads the technology vertical with a particular focus on Epione.net. He is a technology enthusiast with 10 years of experience in IT risk management, special projects and implementation of technology transforming business systems and processes across SSA. Soon after this, Gazah met Jessica and Rhobhi at Dalberg’s 10-year anniversary event in 2017 in Johannesburg where Rhobhi was an Associate Partner, and already had years of experience in the healthcare sector across Africa and Asia essica was at the time Chief of Staff to the CEO and Deputy CEO of Discovery Health, with experience in healthcare operations, and had been personally invited to the event by Rhobhi in her capacity as the panel facilitator. Jessica now leads the business operations across the group. Rhobhi oversees the business’ strategy and its execution, and plays a support role on all clinical aspects of Epione.net.
Through conversations at the event, yet more links were established. Coincidentally, Jessica, Rhobhi and Farai were all fellows of the Aspen Institute’s offshoot – Young Africa Leadership Initiative (YALI) aimed at developing and nurturing leadership potential for Africa. They were keen to create a digital health information concept aimed at an African audience, and after discussions with Gazah, it became clear that his concept was bold and holistic with potential for a much larger impact. The four of them decided to put their heads together and the partnership was born.
It was indeed a perfect coming together of young African talent with the right experience to birth Epione.net: investment management, strategy, technology and operations. The four co-founders therefore came together and the rest is history, as they say!
Now the epione.net team is a young, smart, diverse and dynamic team of Africans with an undying passion for healthcare. They pride themselves in having a partnership mentality and not a traditional employer-employee relationship – with a simple yet powerful motto ‘Getting Stuff Done’.
The organisation’s team consists of the four co-founders, their amazing product manager Aimee, two developers cranking out the solution – Alex and Shane, who the team hopes will very soon be joined by two more Zimbabwean developers thanks to UNDP/Youth Connekt, their marketing coordinator Noxolo, the business analyst Dudley, and seven customer service consultants who work with them on a contractual basis to help get doctors onto the platform.
Recently, one of the biggest challenges the team has noted within our health system is the lack of an end-to-end patient care coordination and management system. Although there has been considerable growth in technological solutions within the healthcare space, these solutions remain siloed, offering only a limited view of the patient’s medical journey. The same can be said for solutions to specifically address COVID-19; the health space is increasingly flooded with once-off solutions that are disconnected from the broader chain of care. It is in-fact one of the ironies of the technological revolution, that innovations meant to connect are inadvertently contributing to a disconnected health system. The consequences can be grave; at the systemic level this siloed approach results in fragmented services, compromised quality of care, inefficiencies and escalating costs. At the individual level it can lead to death and/or morbidity due to doctors not having access to records at the time they need it most. Epione.net is truly unique in that it offers an end-to-end solution, connecting all stakeholders, while keeping the patient at the centre. It was also designed with Africans in mind.
The Epione.net platform is free for all patients and is accessible via the web-portal and mobile app on android and iOS; and the core platform for primary care clinicians is free for all the primary care clinicians and is accessible via the web-portal (with mobile app features under development). The platform knows no borders (but observes local regulation); and allows for the connection of healthcare seekers and healthcare providers regardless of which country they are based in. Therefore, from a scalability point of view, they are able to reach and connect (either virtually or, if need be, physically) the whole African continent, as a start, to access healthcare. Over time they have faced challenges at different stages of their start-up journey.
From funding; to recruitment of scarce IT talent like software developers; to navigating tricky regulatory environments; and of course the ever present challenge of marketing effectively.
The great thing about having such a passionate, diverse, educated and experienced team is that they really get to solve problems quite creatively. When they couldn’t find success recruiting through traditional channels, they tapped into their social networks to find the amazing developers who are part of their team today. They have also been helped a great deal by partners such as Global Citizen who provided them with a marketing intern for three months to help design and implement key marketing initiatives. She is now a part of the team.
In areas where they are less experienced, or need to bolster their skillsets, they are supported by an advisory board and are fortunate to have several advisors from the clinical sphere and the business sphere. As they say in Africa – it takes a village! Overall, although they have been faced with all sorts of challenges, and will no doubt continue to, together they believe they will always be able get stuff done. Epione.net is currently in the process of rolling out the entire solution in South Africa and Zimbabwe and also speaking to a few other countries in the SADC region. For their COVID-19 solution, they have developed a response that solves country level challenges caused by this pandemic, solutions for the government, corporates/schools, individuals, sporting activities, entertainment, retail, etc.
As far as Epione.net has come, they still require some assistance. Below is their appeal to the various stakeholders involved:
- What we’d like governments to know is that we’ve designed a government response platform that allows the government to perform mass screenings of its population in targeted areas and use the results that are geo-mapped with a heat-map showing high risk areas to take corrective and pre-emptive actions. It uses the model of healthcare field workers performing multi-day screenings with the results being recorded in real-time and relayed back to the national command centre where the manager or supervisor will be observing the evolution of the symptoms and/or cases in a given area. This allows for corrective and pre-emptive actions, such as deployment of testing, quarantining the areas, etc., to be taken. The platform can be used at a suburb level going up or in closed locations such as old age homes, correctional services, public hospitals, government schools, universities, etc.
- We’d like businesses across all industries to know that we’ve designed a corporate solution that allows employers and employees to comply with regulation around the re-opening of the economies. Our platform allows employees to monitor and track their symptoms and share their tracker (at their own will) with their employers before getting to work, or at the entrance to work (using a QR code). The employer will have a choice to either do a full symptom check on the employee upon arrival or do confirmatory checks of the body temperature or other notable symptoms before allowing the employee in. These checks are viewed and managed by the OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) team and can make decisions on what actions to take on employees showing progressive symptoms. It also enables the companies to screen their visitors. This platform can be used to fully and cautiously re-open the economies and can used by:
o Large Corporates
o Private Schools
o Private Universities
o Mining and beyond!
- We’d like every single person in Africa, and indeed the world to know that the free individual symptom tracker on the free APP available on Google Play or Apple App store allows anyone to:
o track and monitor their own symptoms over time
o give their doctors access to the tracker so that they can be remotely monitored as their symptoms evolve over time,
o book an appointment with a doctor (virtually on the APP/platform, or in person) if the symptoms negatively evolve and the app trigger this action,
o be referred to a testing site,
o get their results and, if need be,
o be referred to an isolation centre.
When asked how the experience with Youth Connekt Zimbabwe has been, Epione.net had this to say; “This experience has been phenomenal. We’re so excited to be part of the YC family and the IBUHUB process which is going to support us for five years. We’re still at the beginning of our journey, but they’ve already added so much value through the provision of much needed funding, strategic partnerships and just providing general support. It’s truly a dream come true for us to be able to grow and succeed in Zimbabwe and to continue to create jobs, opportunities and innovation to benefit our country.
Our advice to others contemplating being part of the YC family is – what are you waiting for?! You’ll learn so much simply from taking part in the process from application stage, to pitching, to refining business models and budgets. The whole team is amazingly supportive and professional. Most importantly, they’ll be just as excited as you are about making a difference in Zimbabwe and beyond.
Also, Jessica, like a few members of the team, is a huge swimming fan who for years yelled at the TV screen and cheered on the current Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Hon. Kirsty Coventry in the pool; so to have her be so encouraging in her speech to us as young entrepreneurs, as part of the YC process was really a full circle moment.”
To get in touch with Epione.net, please visit their platforms noted below:
- Website: www.epione.net
- Instagram https://www.instagram.com/epione_net/
- Facebook: https://web.facebook.com/epionenet/?_rdc=1&_rdr
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/epione-net/
- Play Store (Google):
- App Store (Apple): https://apps.apple.com/app/id1487920012
What are your thoughts on the advancement of healthtech? How best do you think we can aid in assisting its advancements and reduce the problems associated with it?