When a person is diagnosed with a serious illness, he or she must make a series of difficult medical decisions. What will I pay for? Where will I go? What type of treatment should I get?

In the United States, a patient receives multiple opinions on what he or she should do next; but in Africa, there is a shortage of specialist doctors, and patients rarely receive second opinions. The few specialty doctors in Africa are located in large metropolitan areas, hindering rural patients’ access.

Health-E-Net aims to fix this problem. The startup provides rural impoverished patients with affordable, high-quality second opinions so they can understand the complexities of their illnesses and make informed decisions about their futures.

The enterprise is based in Kenya. It relies on a global network of volunteer doctors, who analyze a patient’s data, and then give a second opinion.

“All patients have this desire to get the best possible treatment and it starts with a second opinion consultation. It gives patients information about their condition, about options available, and space to think and make the best decision. The demand for second opinion consultation is universal, and possibly even more in a developing country context,” said Dr. Pratap Kumar, founder and CEO of Health-E-Net, according to How We Made it in Africa.

Pratap Kumar was born in India and moved to Europe to study neuroscience and health economics. In Europe, many patients from back home continued to contact him with questions, looking for second opinions.

“It was very difficult to do this because one needs the patient’s history, the scans, the detailed blood work investigations… which is not easy to get access to when you are in a different country. A lot of doctors in the diaspora want to help patients back at home, but the networks don’t exist to harness these skills,” explained Kumar.

E-Health-Network began with Kumar’s desire to help patients back home in India. He realized that many other doctors in the diaspora, as well as retired doctors, also wanted to do something meaningful for the communities that they left behind without having to travel thousands of miles.

Health-E-Net costs only $30 and enables patients to have access to the world’s leading medical specialists.

Health-E-Net first assembles patients’ medical records. The company then shares these records with the relevant medical specialists and offers counseling and support services.

In rural areas, the majority of people cannot afford the $30 fee. Community clinics often subsidize the price, so in many cases, rural patients pay as little as $3.

Due to Kumar’s roots in India, he initially began Health-E-Net there. India has a larger population, but Kenya enables Kumar to be more adaptive and innovative.

“In India, you very quickly go into the numbers game. Even if your solution is not completely optimized you can scale across the country and make the numbers work for you. In Kenya and across Africa you really need a well-designed product and you must make it work for the low-cost market. The markets here won’t grow exponentially like in India or China, but your product has to be attuned to the challenges of the consumer, so innovation has to be at its best,” Kumar said.

Kumar hopes to expand Health-E-Net throughout the African continent, and eventually the world. “It works in Kenya, but it is also workable in India, Papua New Guinea or Ethiopia,” says Kumar. “Any place where there is inequality in access to healthcare, [and] where there are large populations that are rural, poor and don’t have access to the next level of care, Health-E-Net will be very useful to such settings.”

Aaron Andree

Sources: Health-E-Net, How We Made It in Africa
Photo: How We Made It in Africa