‘Please don’t be dead,’ is a terrific album by Fantastic Negrito. He must have borrowed the title from Zimbabwean mothers telling their children, ‘Please don’t be sick/ill.’ Not only is finding the funds to seek attention a challenge, locating the healthcare practitioner is a chore, especially when it’s a specialist you seek. A new local startup, Zumbani Health is coming in to tackle the latter problem.
One of the founders of Zumbani Health tells the story of how he had to drive around town looking for cheap labs to get tests done. We have all been there, it is quite frustrating. That experience led to the creation of the Zumbani Health platform to compete in the booming e-health sector.
What is Zumbani Health
It is a medical platform where patients can connect with healthcare providers. The platform is essentially a database of healthcare providers in the country. The platform is open to all Zimbabwe registered healthcare providers and Zimbabwean patients.
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For the patient
All a patient does is just log in, type in what they are looking for and they will be offered multiple results. Be it clinics, hospitals, or diagnostic labs. Or even more specifically; GPs, specialists, psychologists, counsellors and more.
Not only does the patient get contact details and directions, they also get to compare the experience of the practitioners and also the cost. That right there is special, getting to compare the different consultation fees before selecting a practitioner is a game changer. The patient is able to ‘shop’ for doctors as they would for other services / products, something they couldn’t do as easily before.
After picking a practitioner, the patient will be able to book either an in-person or virtual consultation. This will mean a patient finding out exactly when they will get to ‘see’ the doctor. No more flipping through old magazines for hours in a doctor’s waiting room. Or worse, being told to come back another day.
The patient will be able to pay using EcoCash, RTGS transfer, Visa, Mastercard or cash. They can book online and then pay cash when they get to the doctor’s.
In summary, Zumbani Health “helps patients select the right provider for them in terms of provider experience, flexibility and cost.”
For the health practitioner
As you know, doctors are not allowed by law to advertise their services. The Zumbani Health platform is like a cheat code, it helps doctors gain visibility that they would otherwise never get. As it stands, a good doctor in Marlborough serves mostly Marlborough residents. With this platform, a patient in Eastlea who probably would have never heard about the good doctor, may find themselves in Marlborough.
Zumbani Health will take on some of the health practitioners’ administration duties. Handling of bookings, payments and prescription issuance. This would obviously lead to a reduced administrative load for the doctors. That is time saved which could translate into reduced administrative expenses.
The Zumbani Health team also found out that some doctors still exclusively use physical diaries for their schedules. Communication challenges, usually resulting from their P.As being overwhelmed, often leads to these doctors missing or coming in late for appointments. Most of us have experienced this.
The bookings on Zumbani will be electronic, therefore making it easy to automate reminders. The doctor may get a notification 30 mins before any appointment for example. The doctors will have their schedules sync to their mobile devices and computers and they can access them wherever they may be.
For Zumbani Health
Although the platform started as a passion project, they still have to eat. Health practitioners will pay a small percentage, as low as 1%, for the administration services we talked about earlier. The fee is that small to reduce friction and get as many practitioners as possible to sign up.
Will this work?
Like all aggregating platforms, Zumbani Health faces the classic chicken and egg problem. Patients won’t sign up if there are no doctors and doctors won’t sign up if there are no patients. Getting doctors to sign up will be the harder challenge. If they feel that what they have is working, they will not be easily swayed.
Zumbani Health is aware of this, hence the low fees being charged. Of course the Zumbani cut is not even the largest barrier.
Increased admin costs
The challenge is that even with reduced administrative load, the practitioner will probably still need a receptionist / administrator on site. Why? Inertia for some who are just not keen on changing what is working for them. For some the prestige and the optics of having an admin team may be important. After all, how many of us would find it odd if we got to the doctor’s and heard her scream out ‘NEXT.’ There should be people to handle that.
However, all will need the admin team to handle walk-ins and the other duties that cannot be outsourced to the platform.
So, there may be no cost savings but rather an extra cost, the Zumbani Health cut for the online booking and payments. However, that is the worst case scenario which assumes that there will be no uptick in bookings following registration on Zumbani Health.
If Zumbani Health can deliver more patients, which I think is likely, the extra bookings will lead to increased revenue. So, even if the admin costs are not reduced, the health practitioner ends up in a better position. It all goes back to discovery, which will be the main selling point in my opinion.
The preference for cash in Zim
The other challenge for Zumbani Health is that most private health practitioners charge in USD. When it is USD, the patients also prefer to use cash. Neither party prefers the Nostro accounts. What this means is that patients will book their appointments on the Zumbani platform and then pay cash when they get to the doctor’s. That makes it hard for Zumbani Health to collect its cut seamlessly. They are aware of this and are working on a solution that will please all parties.
There are other players in this field, mostly large global solutions. For me, there was a service I used before and so I wondered what Zumbani Health has that the other, more global solutions do not have. The answer is bookings and payments.
I did notice that on the global solutions, appointments can be made but almost all Zimbabwean health practitioners never bothered to allow for that. All those platforms provide are directions and contact details.
We can only speculate on why Zim doctors did not enable bookings on those platforms. Zumbani Health believes that by being a local startup, they care more about the small Zim market than the Medpages of this world. Therefore, they are willing to hand-hold Zim doctors and remove at least the lack of know-how barrier in the process. Something the bigger competitors simply cannot do for a small market like Zim.
That being said, the fact that on some of those other platforms thousands of Zim health practitioners are signed up means they are open to such technologies assisting in their operations. A custom-made Zim solution should be enticing to them.
Whenever an innovative startup flexes its wings, we all get anxious – how is the government going to respond? The Zumbani Health team is yet to sit down properly with the Ministry of Health and so fingers are crossed that there will be no cease and desist orders.
On the face of it, there is absolutely no reason why the platform should be stopped. They are not providing health care but simply bringing healthcare providers and patients together. Could the visibility provided to doctors be construed to constitute advertisement? That would be a stretch. These are only listings, showing name, location of business and experience of the doctor.
That’s it folks
What do you think about Zumbani Health. Are you rooting for this platform like I am and do you think it will succeed in Zimbabwe? Let us know in the comments below.