Mobility is tackling the medical last mile problem around the world.
The medical last mile
The U.S. healthcare system, despite its many flaws, is one of the most innovative and advanced industries in the world. Look no further than the development of a COVID-19 vaccine in under a year, or to your local convenience store with aisles of over-the-counter medications and a pharmacy in the back. Not all countries are as fortunate, however, with some experiencing issues like long lines at local clinics, undertreatment of chronic conditions like HIV and diabetes, and difficulty in accessing essential medicine.
One of the biggest healthcare challenges in low and middle income countries (LMICs) is the medical last mile problem. In countries like South Africa, where Mobility is starting its operations, many patients, especially those with chronic conditions who need regular checkups and medication, find it difficult to receive the necessary attention and medication due to long lines, poor transportation, and mismanaged data. Mobility’s founders Yiwen Li (Wharton ‘21, College ‘21), Aris Saxena (Wharton ‘21), and Eash Aggarwal (College ‘21), all undergraduates at Penn, are looking to tackle this problem with software to better coordinate in-home primary care.
An opportunity for global impact
Yiwen and Aris first met during their freshman year, living in the same hall. The two have a deep-rooted interest in healthcare. Yiwen is in the Life Sciences Management dual degree program studying Biology and Finance, with research experience at Penn Medicine’s Cancer Biology Center and healthcare investing experience at Morgan Stanley. Aris is studying Healthcare Management and Statistics, with experience at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working on malaria elimination, at Penn researching global vaccination coverage, and at Boston Consulting Group focusing on the healthcare industry.
The two of them were driven to start Mobility by a desire to see medical innovations more equally distributed. “We see Penn Medicine right across the street, with incredible innovations...but then you go to places across the globe and you see that there are people who still live without the basic necessities.” They first learned about the last mile problem through a healthcare management class, and became interested in exploring its effects in LMICs, particularly South Africa. South Africa presented a large market opportunity due to poor healthcare infrastructure outside of cities and many people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, HIV, and hypertension. The two of them spent a summer in South Africa conducting market research and speaking with clinics, patients, and government officials, confirming three key problems: long distances to nearby clinics and poor transportation infrastructure, hours-long waiting times at clinics, and a lack of centralized patient data management leading to easily missed appointments.
From there, Yiwen and Aris saw they had a strong opportunity to make an impact. They added a third cofounder, Eash Aggarwal, with software experience at J.P. Morgan and at a Penn startup, whom they found by reaching out to the Penn entrepreneurship community. Together, the three of them began building Mobility and grew their team to its current size of 6 people, two of which have lived in South Africa for several years.
A software-driven solution
Mobility is a software solution to the medical last mile problem by coordinating at-home care for patients with chronic conditions. It aims to work with three main stakeholders in the treatment process: the clinics, the healthcare workers, and the patient. For clinics, they offer a web dashboard with centralized patient information, appointment scheduling, and a daily itinerary for the clinic’s employees to visit patients. For the healthcare workers, the app presents their daily itinerary of patients to visit and provides step-by-step guidance for what patients need. Finally, for patients, an SMS-based system will allow patients to easily keep track of upcoming appointments. Using Mobility, clinics can schedule consistent, recurring patient visits, send healthcare workers to deliver at-home care and medications, and more easily keep track of progress and data. Their goal is to make the software as easy to use as possible, for all parties involved. Their web dashboard makes everything accessible within four clicks, and when COVID-19 hit, they tested their SMS systems with Penn Medicine to coordinate delivery of medical supplies into Philadelphia communities.
There are about 8,000 clinics in South Africa today, according to Yiwen and Aris, and many of them are operated by large NGOs or parent organizations. They see these clinics in South Africa and in neighboring countries as a large, untapped, and easily accessible market. More and more people in the region are suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and HIV that require consistent treatment and appointments. Plus, the presence of global NGOs means that Mobility only needs to work with a few large organizations as opposed to thousands of small clinics. Each clinic would pay an annual subscription for the software based on the number of patients they see.
Yiwen and Aris also see themselves as differentiated in this market. They point to legacy players offering electronic medical records software as one of their main competitors, but note that they don’t have a focus on at home care or medication delivery. Phulukisa, a South African startup, also aims to help healthcare workers manage their workflows, but doesn’t have as large a focus on clinic data management. Finally, there are large clinics that offer their own at-home care, but their reach is often limited to more developed areas, whereas Mobility hopes that their software will enable all clinics to deliver at-home care.
Today, Mobility is currently running a pilot in partnership with Kheth’Impilo, a local nonprofit, at a clinic outside of Cape Town. So far, they’ve served over 2,000 patients, decreased missed deliveries from 41% to 7%, increased healthcare worker efficiency (in terms of number of patients seen) by 25%, and decreased patients lost to follow-up (where a chronic patient fails to follow up) by 73%. They expect to serve all 5 Kheth’Impilo clinics by the end of 2021 and all 50 clinics run by the Cipla Foundation, another local partner, by the end of 2022.
With these strong metrics, the Mobility team is excited about the potential impact that their software can have at a larger scale. The company is looking to raise around $300,000 in pre-seed funding, which would enable the founders to move to South Africa after graduation, expand operations, and grow their team.
Looking forward, Yiwen and Aris see both opportunities and challenges. While many clinics face the same medical last mile problem, their existing workflows, processes, and customer demographics may be drastically different. The founders see a challenge in making their product flexible enough to easily fit into all these workflows, while simple enough to avoid a complex onboarding process. Longer term, the team is excited to tackle even more opportunities around the lack of medical access across the globe, including the U.S., and to spread the positive effects of medical innovation more equitably. When I asked Aris about their motivation to tackle such a difficult problem, he responded with a question of his own: “What is the value of scientific innovation if you can’t deliver it to the people who need it most?”
You can learn more about Mobility at their website here.