How this healthtech startup is changing the face of Kenyan healthcare

Healthcare is one of the biggest challenges facing Africa today, with research showing that as many as half of all Africans lack access to quality healthcare. Even when healthcare is available, accessing it can be a massive challenge. Kenya is no exception to this set of circumstances.

The public healthcare sector, in particular, faces a looming crisis thanks to a shortage of medical workers. As a result, many Kenyans seeking healthcare at hospitals and clinics face long waits, which disrupt their days and their ability to care for their families. Reducing those wait times and ensuring that Kenyans have access to the healthcare they need won’t come easily. But technology, properly applied, can go a long way toward addressing some of these inefficiencies.

One company that’s actively demonstrating how effective a technology-enabled approach to healthcare can be is TIBU Health. Founded in Kenya in 2020 and backed by early-stage venture investor Founders Factory Africa (FFA), the company has evolved significantly over the past few years to the point where it could offer a model for the future of African healthcare.

For Eunice Wambui, Investment Principal at FFA, the transformative potential TIBU Health has for the African healthcare sector is palpable.

“As an active early-stage investor within the African tech ecosystem, including healthtech, we see TIBU Health as an embodiment of what’s possible when technology is applied to some of the continent’s most pressing problems,” Wambui says. “If its model can be adapted across the continent, patient service times and savings could improve significantly.”

During the pandemic, TIBU Health started out doing at-home COVID-19 tests, reducing the need for people to expose themselves to potentially risky clinic settings. Later, it did the same thing with vaccines. That then expanded to sample collections for laboratory tests.

From there, it expanded its offerings into home clinician visits and video and voice-based telehealth services. Realising that purely digital healthcare services would take some time to achieve widespread adoption in Kenya, it started setting up in-person clinics and building out other offerings, including employee health and wellness programmes.

According to Peter Gicharu, Co-founder & CTO at TIBU Health, while the company is completely different in 2024 compared to its initial beginnings in 2020, what has remained consistent is the team’s belief in technology’s ability to enhance the patient journey. As a result, TIBU Health has sought to integrate tech into every step of that journey.

“From the point where the patient makes a phone call for healthcare services to when they see the doctor, to weeks after they’ve received their care, and being able to follow up and check on them and see if they’re doing better, every touch point that the patient interacts with needs to be centred around the patient themselves and facilitated by technology,” says Gicharu.

“How we differentiate ourselves from the competition with regards to the patient journey is by making the patient feel like they are the only one that we are looking out for,” he adds. “This isn’t the experience most people have when dealing with either the public or private healthcare sectors, which can make you feel like just another number .”

A good example of how technology enables this personalisation is the seamless way TIBU Health will get authorisation from a patient’s insurer while they’re being treated. Another area where technology plays a role is in the paperwork that takes up so much of any healthcare worker’s time.

TIBU Health
Peter Gicharu, Co-founder & CTO at TIBU Health.

“Once a patient is registered and the journey starts within the facility, there is little to no paper trail in terms of actual physical paper copies that are moved from one station to the next,” Gicharu says. “Everything, all the departments, and all the stops use the same system.”

TIBU Health also empowers healthcare with the latest technology. AI-powered stethoscopes, for example, make detecting abnormalities significantly easier than would otherwise be the case. It also equips those doing at-home or clinic visits with a small device that allows them to take up to six vital readings and send them straight back to the facility they came from.

By bridging digital and physical healthcare in this way, TIBU Health isn’t just providing a better, more efficient experience for patients. It’s also helping overcome healthcare worker shortages, something that’s as big a problem in Kenya as it is in many African countries. As Gicharu explains, the problem isn’t so much a lack of skilled healthcare workers as a lack of opportunities for them.

“There are a high number of medical students who graduate but, for a variety of reasons, don’t continue pursuing a career in medicine or move elsewhere,” he says. “But at the same time, medical facilities are overcrowded. There aren’t enough doctors to take care of all the patients that come in, but it’s not because there’s a lack of skills.”

“We believe that TIBU Health could play an important role in addressing both of these issues,” Gicharu concludes.

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