Love and other Drugs: How mPharma is making it easier to get prescriptions

Today, Africa has 15 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants and 62% of the population live in rural areas where access to medical facilities is extremely difficult [1]. To further exacerbate the situation, the Sub-Saharan African Region suffers more than 24% of the global burden of disease but has access to only 3% of health workers and less than 1% of the world’s financial resources. This goes to say that healthcare is not only a huge problem across the continent but also an enormous opportunity [2],[3].

So, how  is mPharma disrupting the healthcare industry, specifically the pharmaceutical market which is estimated by IMS Health to reach $45 billion by 2025?

mPharma’s mission is simple, to make prescription drugs in emerging markets easily accessible and easily affordable. Out of the 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, only four have proper drug monitoring systems in place and substandard or fake drugs are very common [4]. Furthermore, data is primarily transmitted through very archaic and inefficient methods: doctors often must make several phone calls to locate drugs and prescriptions are typically written on paper. In the very likely event that either phone lines are down, or the patient travels miles to a pharmacy only for the pharmacist to misunderstand the prescription, the patient could be left with no drugs. To address the problem, mPharma has built the infrastructure and a drug monitoring system that connects patients, hospitals and pharmacies to a cloud-based software. Doctors know in real-time the exact location and availability of any medication of interest, and patients have a more reliable access to medicines. Through partnerships with various parties across the supply-chain including pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance companies, and local governments, mPharma can deliver medicine directly into the hands of consumers in these underserved markets. mPharma has built the backend infrastructure to connect pharmacies together and provide data to stakeholders in real time. Through its innovative e-prescription tools, doctors, patients and pharmacists gain access to a network of high quality, affordable prescription drugs, and the support to ensure that drugs are being administered appropriately [5].

How exactly does mPharma’s business model create value?

mPharma is currently present in four African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia and its product offering includes mClinic and mPharmacy.

Through mClinic, doctors prescribe medication and send a prescription code to the pharmacy and patient’s mobile phone. Once a patient is registered into the system, their information and prescription history can be easily accessed by their doctor. Furthermore, doctors can see stock information for any of the partner pharmacies to avoid sending patients to pharmacies where drugs are unavailable. Lastly, doctors and pharmacist can communicate directly through mPharma’s messaging system [5].

mPharmacy primarily saves pharmacists time and paperwork by allowing them to communicate instantaneously with patients and doctors, receive and dispense prescriptions, and automate refills from a simple mobile platform. Pharmacies receive a patient’s diagnosis and prescribed medication through a digital prescription code sent by a doctor. Prescriptions are maintained and served automatically and due to the convenience of the messaging system, pharmacies can easily track the patients’ progress, continuity, and uniformity via a simple text, all while communicating seamlessly with the prescriber. mPharma also offers pharmacies stock control tools which make inventory management more efficient.

Next steps for mPharma

Though mPharma is disrupting the healthcare industry and addressing a major problem experienced by individuals across the continent, another key issue that limits access to healthcare is cost. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average person survives on less than $3 a day. According to the World Bank, from 1993 to 2008 the average per capita income of sub-Saharan African economies increased from $742 to $762 per year. Excluding South Africa and the Seychelles, the per capita income declined from $608 to $556 over the same period [6].  Historically, Healthcare in Africa has been very much donor driven, and while this helps tremendously, it is not sustainable. In order to cater to the majority of the population, mPharma must find creative ways to collect payment from its consumers including lower prices for drugs, flexible payment terms, and consumer loans.

With mobile phone penetration at 77% as of 2015, and expected to grow to 93% by 2020 (includes 540M smartphones) [7], the future for mPharma is extremely bright. I am confident that they will continue to solve problems in the healthcare industry across the continent for years to come. Ayekoo!!!!!

(Word Count: 742 words)

[1] “How digital technology is transforming health and social care”, Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions,  https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/life-sciences-health-care/deloitte-uk-connected-health.pdf

[2] “Lions go Digital: The Internet’s transformative potential in Africa”, James Manyika, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2013 http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/lions-go-digital-the-internets-transformative-potential-in-africa

[3] “Density of physicians (total number per 1000 population, latest available year)” World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory (GHO) Data

http://www.who.int/gho/health_workforce/physicians_density/en/

[4] “The Story of mPharma”, One Young World, http://voicesofafrica.co.za/the-story-of-mPharma/, August 2013

[5] https://www.mPharma.com/about/

[6] “Standing Still but going backwards”, C.W., The Economist http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/01/incomes-sub-saharan-africa January 2014

[7] “The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2015”, GSMA,  https://www.gsmaintelligence.com/research/?file=721eb3d4b80a36451202d0473b3c4a63&download

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Love and other Drugs: How mPharma is making it easier to get prescriptions

  1. Tuyee,

    Interesting article on e-healthcare. Has this mPharma platform seen many adoptions by the players in the value chain? It seems as though this is an infrastructure & connectivity product whose success would be based primarily on user adoption. I worry that a lack of centralization across the healthcare field would leave a disconnected system. I also am concerned about the lack of infrastructure to support this platform – factors such as power outages or lack of connectivity would hinder the adoption of this system. In the article by the US National Institute of Health, the study they conducted looking at the use & adoption of electronic health records (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167769/) showed similar challenges for the system success.

    Since network and energy stability are requirements for this platform to be adopted, how do you think this prerequisite could be addressed? I suspect that solar power may help alleviate and help the adoption of this system.

    I agree that this market is ripe for mPharma and the potential proliferation of mobile solutions though I do think there are many infrastructure challenges needed to be solved for this to be effective.

  2. Great article. I am really excited regarding mPharma’s business and operations model for two key reasons. The first is that it works to directly involve the pharmacist in the patient care pathway by providing a line of communication between the patient and the pharmacist. Involving the pharmacist is key as studies have indicated that medication adherence goes up and medication errors go down when the pharmacist is directly involved. The other thing mPharma does is provide patients with HIV/AIDs with a private line to access HAART and advice. In many parts of Africa there continues to be a stigma associated with HIV which prevents patients from seeking care. By providing these patients with a more private method for getting access to the drugs they need mPharma may play a primary role in getting HAART to the patients that require it.

  3. mPharma has taken an interesting approach to a very important problem. I wonder how consumers have found the experience of using this software, and likewise, how pharmacies and doctors have found the platform. This seems to be a product where critical mass is vital to making sure it is effective. How does mPharma ensure accuracy of the information transmitted, especially in the case of pharmacy stocks?

    Similarly, I wonder how mPharma is currently funding itself and how long it is taking the upfront investment in infrastructure to pay off. Does it expect revenue streams going forward to be a software-as-a-service subscription, or does it plan only on deriving revenue from consumers paying for their prescriptions through the mPharma platform?

    I would be curious to see how mPharma progresses in the years to come!

  4. Love to hear about these types of companies – thank you!

    One other potential opportunity for mPharma would be for them to work directly with pharmaceutical companies to help gain access to free or discounted medications. Most of the largest organizations (e.g., Pfizer, Novartis, Teva) all have philanthropic organizations to help improve access to their medications. It seems that with mPharma’s platform, these companies could more easily distribute their products and fulfill their philanthropic missions.

    This business model seems hugely transferable in many places around the globe. I’m excited to see how the next years go!

    1. I really like the idea of receiving discounted medications from huge pharmaceutical companies. I think this helps address the cost issue I discussed in my post. So many consumers cannot afford the cost of drugs and the trade-off between buying medications or say food is very legitimate for many consumers. If some of these larger pharmaceuticals would be willing to offer discounted generic drugs to the region, the impact across the continent will be huge. A good friend of mine is one of the early investors in mPharma and sits on the board. I will definitely run this by him as I am interested to find out whether mPharma has explored this opportunity.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  5. Very interesting post, Tuyee. Thank you for sharing! mPharma sounds like a truly groundbreaking company. With the increased penetration of smartphones in sub-Saharan Africa, there is undoubtedly a massive opportunity for companies such as mPharma. What other areas of healthcare services do you think the Company can expand into?

    1. I think there is a huge opportunity for preventative healthcare. In many parts of Africa, preventative healthcare is slowly gaining a lot of traction: people are going to the gym more often, eating healthier, and trying to follow routine vitamin schedules. Given this and the fact that a huge part of the population is generally oblivious about health, I think that there’s room for another mobile platform that sends workouts to consumers, or merely general health tips etc. I just may need to explore this idea myself.

  6. Great article Tuyee! This is a very interesting use of new digital technology to address a long-standing issue in the developing world. Logistics and infrastructure seem to be taken for granted in the developed world yet they pose such a challenge for emerging countries. However, mPharma seems to be one example of how these nations can leverage the ubiquity of cellular phones and other digital technology to overcome the existing challenges. I was also shocked to see the statistics on per capita income which represents a whole other set of challenges in reducing the disease burden in Africa.

  7. Thank you for sharing, Tuyee! While I am hopeful for mPharma’s success, I agree with your concern regarding funding for such a program. Having worked in the health-tech space in the US (and yes, I understand US healthcare prices are among the highest in the world), I would assume that rolling out a system like mPharma would be tremendously costly ($ Millions). While patients, healthcare providers, and pharmacies may be on board, cost and gaining buy-in from hospital IT services may be key bottlenecks for mPharma. Do you know if/how mPharma designed its operating model to mitigate these risks?

    1. Ashley, mPharma covers these cost. For each hospital/pharmacy that signs up, the Company provides tablets and the necessary training needed to get the hospitals familiar with the platform

  8. Tuyee – what an interesting post! I really enjoyed learning about this amazing company that is working to solve a major issue. One question I had was around access: how do the doctors become part of the mclinic network and what kind of IT set up is required for use? I wonder if the initial start-up costs for accessing the network and using the platform are prohibitive for some. To that end, is mPharma profitable or supported by donations? It would be interesting to see if multiple tiers of product could work in this model.

  9. Love the post and the company, Tuyee.

    One concern I had which has not yet been risen in the comments is the role of cybersecurity in the company to prevent hacking of sensitive medical records. While I assume these developing African countries don’t have as much of the burdensome regulation regarding communicating, transmitting, and controlling patient data, there still must be some concern on the mPharma end when it comes to protecting the information from hackers. In addition, ensuring this type of security must be very costly for the company. Do you know if cybersecurity is playing a large role in managements decision process when rolling out new product and new markets? How will it affect their bottom line and product introductions as time progresses? I imagine this issue will only grow with time as both the markets develop and the people in the regions have greater access to technology (for good and for bad!)

  10. Tuyee, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article!

    We tried to implement a simple stock management system in Uganda and Rwanda and encountered numerous difficulties. The company we created was private and merely wanted to be the agent between the ministry of health (and the related facilities) and pharmacies/donors (depending on the type of medication since ARVs are provided by Global Fund these days through intermediaries). Our platform failed to take traction because of one predictable yet not sufficiently accounted for thing: people in the Ministry of Health are not used to using computers and do not want to invest in the infrastructure at hospitals. Now, I understand mHealth is different because of the central role of mobile technology that is booming in Africa. What is your opinion about the interaction of mHealth tools (such as the one described by you) and eHealth tools? Where do you think the future stands?

    THANK YOU! this article literally made my day!

  11. Great post Tuyee, I’m excited about what the future holds for healthcare technology in Africa. As you mentioned, the funding of this platform in the context of low incomes is crucial for its sustainability. Could a potential solution be to charge the pharmacies (either subscription or as a percentage of the prescription)? If using the platform saves time and makes the process more efficient then hopefully some of these gains can be used to pay for the platform.

  12. Tuyee- Really strong post. Can tell that you have spent a few months in the continent so appreciate your perspective. To build up such a massive network of doctors do you think the solution is to either further leverage the small base of doctors in Africa by making them more efficient and accessible through mPharma and telehealth? Or do you think that the supply issue remains so large that they will need to connect (via telehealth) with doctors from other regions, which may drive cost of care up given exchange rates.

    Pls work on correcting the proper capitalization in your title. Thx.

    Much love.

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