by TINTSWALO BALOYI
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE Google-backed startup, HealthDart, aims to bring tech-enabled efficiency to South Africa’s healthcare, which is fraught with inefficiencies.
These range from long queues at clinics and public hospitals, to long waiting.
Headquartered in Johannesburg, Healthdart is backed by early-stage investor Founders Factory Africa and was recently selected for the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund 2023 cohort.
Its inclusion in the cohort comes with up to US$150 000 in non-dilutive cash awards, $200 000 in Google Cloud credits, Google Ads support, and one-on-one mentoring from Googlers and industry experts.
HealthDart works by bringing together an array of technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), to make it easier for South Africans to get the healthcare they need at an affordable price.
For HealthDart co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Njabulo Skhosana, getting the company to this point is a milestone in a journey that has seen him go from a healthcare scientist to someone passionate about changing the business of healthcare.
“I’m a pharmacologist by way of background but then kind of got into the business side of healthcare,” said Skhosana.
He explained that several of his family members are also doctors and nurses.
“I think it’s a core passion that’s been instilled in me from a young age,” Skhosana added.
“I’ve always understood that it’s important to be interested in space and contribute however I can.”
After a few years of working in a laboratory, Skhosana realised that he wanted to be at the intersection of healthcare and business.
That led to a spell in the United Kingdom working for Bupa, a multinational health insurance company, before a 2013 return to South Africa to work in Deloitte Consulting’s Life Sciences and Healthcare division.
Skhosana said being where he could make the most impact influenced his return to South Africa.
“There’s a lot of room to actually make an impact and improve things and innovate and I think when you look across the African continent, that’s what it’s really ripe for,” he said.
Skhosana revealed a burning desire to help Africa realise the downstream benefits from improved healthcare systems.
He stresses that a lot of important work is being done to address inefficiencies in both the public and private healthcare sectors. One key component that’s been missing to date is how patients’ interface with those systems.
“There you’ve got a lot of inefficiency and fragmentation and that leads to high costs,” he said.
“By inefficiency, I mean patients often don’t know where it is that they should begin. As a result, they seek care in the wrong places. They might go to the hospital and they just need to go to a clinic or they might start off at a pharmacy instead of going to the doctor when they really need a script.”
With its virtual triage system, HealthDart can help ensure people seek out the right healthcare providers for their needs.
The company launched an AI triage chatbot in 2022 and is now working with Google to take the chatbot to the next level.
Its services don’t stop at triage. It also allows people to digitally consult with pharmacists, doctors, and nurses, bringing further efficiencies.
It additionally allows patients to book consultations, upload scripts, buy medications for delivery to home or work, and make in-app payments.
HealthDart hopes to work with medical aid schemes and insurers in the future.
“If we can get the experience to be a lot more cost-effective, not just for medication, but also visiting the right healthcare professional,” Skhosana said.
He is bullish about the future of digital healthcare in South Africa and the continent as a whole but cautions that South Africa is still at the beginning of its journey on this front.
“We’ve got 60 million people in the country and I would honestly be shocked if more than a hundred thousand have actively used virtual healthcare services on a regular basis.”
– CAJ News