Maria and I met years ago in Nairobi. We were both working in the health space, but in very different capacities. Maria was building health tech products for low-resource settings that were simple and impactful. I was working at the Clinton Health Access Initiative leading their malaria program throughout much of Africa.
We came together because there was an enormous opportunity in the market: the consumer. Today, patients are ill-informed about their healthcare options. And while the market is growing rapidly, demand is not keeping pace. New clinics stand empty. Medicine sits on the shelves of new pharmacies and ambulances remain idle in parking lots.
After more than a year of research and discussions on the ground, we decided that emergency healthcare was the first place that we needed to better understand how to bring the consumer closer to the available services. We sought out to answer the following basic questions:
- How were Kenyans accessing emergency healthcare?
- What were the largest barriers to getting care?
- Why was there no integrated functioning system like 911 to facilitate the process in an emergency?
We were surprised by what we found: the private ambulance market had grown rapidly over the last 3-5 years in Kenya - estimates varied greatly but there were surely more than 100 ambulances in Nairobi (above the WHO recommendation), most private ambulances operated significantly under capacity and the average response time was nearly 2 hours. We also heard from consumers that they didn't know who to call in an emergency, getting pre-approval from insurance companies was often a barrier to accessing care, pricing was a mystery and trust of the various ambulance providers was low. And from hospitals, we heard that they often had no insight into when a patient was about to be dropped off at their facility; any advance warning would help them prepare and ensure available staff were ready to provide immediate care.
Previous attempts in Nairobi had not been successful. There is actually a hotline that's set up for Nairobi - 999 or 112 - but very few people knew of it and questioned the utility. But people saw the need: why could they get an Uber in minutes and order food delivery in less than an hour but not get an ambulance?
Thus, through countless discussions with ambulance companies, hospitals, patients and other healthcare providers, Flare was born. Flare is a mobile app and hotline that aggregates available ambulances in Nairobi and allows consumers with one touch (or call) to request an ambulance. The patient can request the nearest ambulance or filter for different variables like brand and price.
In working with the private ambulance companies, we realized that they saw the value of working together. Fun fact: most of the ambulance companies are led by former Emergency Medical Technicians who received their training from St. John's in Nairobi. At Flare, while our goal is to make emergency healthcare more accessible to the consumer, we knew that we had to start with the ambulance companies. We realized that we first needed to organize the market before we could build demand for emergency medical transport by opening it up to the consumers.
Our goal is to release the first version of the app with the ambulance companies during a pilot (so far 5 of them are signed up!) in July 2016 and then release the consumer side of the platform late this year. Stay tuned as we'll keep you updated on our design, development and testing before we go-live.
Do you have a story that you'd like to share of trying to access emergency healthcare in Nairobi? If so, we want to hear it! Help us co-design Flare by giving us your ideas. Together we can reduce the time to care from hours to minutes.