Harnessing Technology Improving Health
Two alumni are using experiences with health care in East Africa to expand into the United States.
access.mobile is a mobile engagement platform designed to improve patient care with a focus on underserved and diverse populations. Utilizing mobile technology, it applies behavioral science, multicultural communications and public health expertise to optimize and automate patient engagement flows that reduce costs for health providers while driving improved health outcomes. Its technology platform, amHealth, analyzes determinants of health and tailors outreach based on individual needs and preferences. It also provides recommendations to optimize outreach success and insights into the patient population, barriers to care and communications efforts. access.mobile was founded in 2011 by Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala, M.P.H. ’06. His wife, Sara Yelpaala, M.P.H. ’07, is the company’s director of marketing and strategy. access.mobile now has customers throughout East Africa and, more recently, portions of the United States.
What have been your biggest accomplishments since access.mobile was launched?
KY, SY: We have worked with over 150 health facilities and supported 2.5 million patients. We were the first and remain the leading mobile patient engagement solution in East Africa, an innovative market that has great mobile infrastructure but also has great health needs. Through our solution, amHealth, we have increased the use of clinical and specialty services among sick patients, improved medication and appointment adherence, fostered health education, and advanced the patient experience. We have also recently launched our solution with leading hospitals in the United States based on our global experiences.
What are some of the challenges that remain?
KY, SY: The biggest challenge is getting the right data organized and understood to personalize health communications. In East Africa, the challenge is getting more reliable electronic data in order to better optimize communications and care. We spend a great deal of time cleaning, organizing and understanding data. Without accurate information on medical conditions, last medical visit, date of birth, address and other determinants, the ability to segment and tailor communications is limited.
In the United States, the data challenge is slightly different. There is a great deal of data available but it is highly fragmented and creates a challenge to organize and use it in meaningful ways. There is a wealth of information, but it is about finding the relevancies and insights. For example, using clinical records to see where your diabetic patients live and publically available data to overlay information on food deserts, can trigger communications about nearby food resources. Similarly, if you have chronic care needs and your address is not near public transport, there may be communications about available transportation options.
More recently, you began implementing your approach into regions of the United States. How has your work in Africa prepared the company for this?
KY, SY: We have found the underserved and multicultural populations in the United States share similar barriers to health care access and comparable mobile communication behaviors to our customers throughout East Africa. In both of these markets, individuals often have a high health burden, low health literacy and delay seeking medical attention. Also these populations are often multicultural, un- or under-insured and non-English speaking. Phone ownership is also comparable between Kenya and those earning less than $30,000 annually in the United States, both in terms of percent owning a mobile phone, percent owning a smartphone and preference for texting. Based on our experience in East Africa and our expertise in public health and behavioral science, we have been able to work in both markets and apply a reverse innovation model.