Serial Kenyan Technician entrepreneur Mike Macharia has spent the past two decades helping businesses such as East Africa’s largest telecommunications company, Safaricom, build the infrastructure to support their growth. His firm Technologies of the seven seaspreviously also worked with governments, participating in the initial implementation of decentralized service delivery centers. Hudum Centerswhich provide citizens with access to almost all public services through a single portal.
A few years ago, the government of Kenya also awarded Macharia a contract to build now abandoned a national hospital information system that he says would change the health care system in the country. However, the end of this project in 2019 did not kill his innovation; instead it inspired him to launch Ponea Health as a healthcare market.
“The end of this project was a moment of introspection and I realized that I had dedicated my entire life to building enterprise hardware and software. But I never thought about creating technology for us (the masses). I decided to build from the bottom up, and that’s how Ponea was born,” Macharia, the startup’s chief visionary (CVO), told TechCrunch.
A personal emergency confirmed the timeliness of the idea.
“I was driving from home and I had a nosebleed and that was the second time. I contacted my doctor and he recommended that I get tested. But I think he suspected that I wouldn’t take them; anyway it was a busy day. So he sent a lab technician to my office to take samples. After the results and review by the doctor, I contacted the pharmacy that used the rider to deliver medicines,” he said.
“At that moment, I realized that everything exists. Doctors, laboratories, pharmacies, payment and delivery service providers exist, but why are they not connected? I found that no one was trying to combine this entire ecosystem into one; it was what we had to do. Why not?”
That’s how he set about building Ponea as “a truly patient-centered platform.”
Ponea Health is a multi-level marketplace that brings together patients, healthcare providers and other service providers, including those in the payment industry.
This allows users to easily identify doctors, facilities, and/or health packages based on various factors including need, location, and fees, as cost is also included in the list.
After the user has contacted the doctor, and depending on the severity of his case, the consultation is carried out virtually or physically. And if a doctor recommends tests, Ponea puts the patient in touch with a lab provider to collect samples.
“We also have our own phlebotomists who sometimes take blood samples because we realized we had to start monitoring the last mile for patients,” said Maharia, co-founder of Ponea with Akshay Shah.
He added that the entire process is client-driven and supported by a call center (medical operations center) that ensures a seamless process for the patient from check-in to drug delivery.
In order to be listed on the Ponea platform, service providers are first screened and evaluated using a proprietary rating system that uses data from a government database and physician certifications. In addition, patients can also rate providers based on set metrics, helping to rank physicians according to experience and customer satisfaction.
Ponea was founded in June 2019 and has attracted over 400 health and wellness professionals since January last year in addition to over 15,000 clients with a 54% conversion as people increasingly turn to telemedicine following the growth of the sector caused by COVID. The takeover comes as telemedicine is said to be bridging the healthcare access gap in Africa, a continent that suffers from the world’s highest disease burden and lowest patient-to-physician ratio.
As the telemedicine rollout continues, Ponea plans to grow its customer base by 500,000 over the next three years and gain a foothold in four other markets, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco.
“We have created a scalable product that integrates easily with others because from the very beginning we intended to create a platform that should work in any part of the world. This means that we do not build what is available. We are looking at strategic engagement by enabling API integration on a global level,” Macharia said.
“And we’ve found great companies both globally and locally that we’re working with in an amazing way, and that includes the global mental health symptom screening that we’re currently evaluating and will soon be integrated into our platform,” he said, adding that the Platform can also collect data from wearable devices.
The Ponea offering includes a chronic disease management element for patients and caregivers such as nurses to help synchronize information and data for better disease surveillance.
The startup also caters to small and medium-sized businesses or businesses that cannot afford comprehensive insurance or those who are only looking for outpatient services. Employees can access services from a list of pre-selected providers, and unlike insurance, the Ponea Wallet balance does not expire.
To date, Ponea has raised $4.3 million in funding from Afya Partners, Shield Capital, Seven Seas Technologies and a number of angels including Bhavesh Shah, Herman Langen, Francis Olsthorn and Kalpesh Mehta.
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