We talked to Edward Booty, CEO of reach52 about delivering healthcare services to the rest of the world and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Edward Booty: We are doing quite well. Similar to other families around the world, we’ve learned to cope with this new normal and making the best of what we can
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded reach52.
Edward Booty: I graduated from the London School of Economics, and after Uni, I wasn’t quite set on which path I wanted to pursue in life, career-wise, so I decided to travel and went to India for six months.
Near the end of that period, I landed an internship position at a major pharmaceutical company there, focusing on access to medicines in rural populations. I got really passionate about this area, and after a period as a management and tech consultant for the UK health service, I decided to establish a tech social enterprise with the goal of expanding access to healthcare in low- and middle-income countries.
This became reach52 – we deliver health services into markets others don’t reach across the world, enabled by our health tech platform, networks of agents, and new public-private partnerships. Currently, we’re operating our services in India, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia – with new countries in the launch phase as well!
How does reach52 innovate?
Edward Booty: reach52 is not your average tech startup. We are a tech social enterprise enabling health services in regions where existing health systems, infrastructure, and internet connectivity is poor to non-existent. A lot of what we’re creating is new and hasn’t been done before in the emerging markets where we operate.
All our innovation starts with understanding the real needs on the ground, so we can identify where the issues and opportunities are. We do this through data analytics, but equally from direct observation, such as spending time with patients or accompanying health workers in the field.
It’s these insights that drive the creation of new health and financial services and how different actors in health systems need to be involved in delivering them sustainably. Often this involves bringing these groups together (e.g., private business, public sector, health providers) with our internal experts to co-create scalable solutions, making the use of diverse experience, and getting everyone engaged early – obviously mainly virtually over the past 12 months!
We also strive to move fast, testing new solutions on the ground, learning and optimizing so they can be scaled up rapidly. You learn much more by experimenting on the ground and adapting than trying to over-analyze or design the perfect solution in the office.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Edward Booty: As for everyone, the pandemic created a lot of challenges. In the markets we’re focused on, there are already weak health systems, shortages of health workers, and people were even more isolated due to lockdowns, so we had to find new ways to deliver services in our current countries during the pandemic but also continue to expand.
Previously we often had to implement our services ourselves on the ground, so we adapted our model. Now we partner with existing community-based organizations such as NGOs who we equip with our health tech to run our services (education, screening, a health marketplace, and last-mile logistics) and manage remotely through virtual channels wherever possible. During the pandemic, we launched our health services on the ground in India through this model and are planning new country launches in the same way.
We also launched completely new remote health services to overcome the access barriers which had been worsened by COVID-19 and the restrictions, such as teledoctor services, health chatbots via Facebook Messenger to support COVID-19 and other health conditions. We’re now working on a new COVID-19 vaccine delivery monitoring model for low-resource settings. Clearly, it’s helped that we’re a health tech organization in this period where digital health services are needed more than ever – not just for the pandemic but to build stronger health systems to protect everyone in the future.
Obviously, we’ve had to get used to working with each other on virtual platforms as in all organizations and the extra challenges of internet connections where some of our teams work! I massively miss not being able to visit our different countries and communities due to restrictions, and looking forward to doing this again as soon as conditions allow.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Edward Booty: Yes, of course, but to a certain extent, you have to do this all the time as you grow health startup, it’s just a pandemic like this, and the economic consequences make it even more important.
A key one for me is being proactive vs. reactive. You’ve got to be fast and decisive in the choices you make. This means amplifying what’s working quickly but also stopping what’s not working so you can re-allocate the resources into the right things.
Sometimes this means difficult choices not to pursue initiatives you’d like to do, or the team would like to do as they don’t fit the strategy overall. I’ve found just being open and honest with the team is best.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Edward Booty: We have a growing core team located across multiple countries and mostly use Microsoft Teams to stay connected with each other. Using one set of tools like this really simplifies communications since everyone knows where to go and what to update. We’ve also used platforms like Miro for co-creation sessions to design new solutions for our markets and partners.
In terms of our community-based health workers and networks of agents, they’re equipped with our ‘offline-first mobile apps to run a full range of health services and capture data. They can sync the data when back online to share appropriate partners and us. To remotely manage and monitor these roaming teams, we’ll also use instant messaging platforms (e.g., Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp) alongside the in-person training sessions and support.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Edward Booty: At the moment, we typically don’t have direct competitors for our full range of health services in the
harder-to-reach markets where we operate. There are obviously existing health providers, NGOs, and private businesses doing great work but generally only addressing part of the problem in these populations.
Our differentiator is our health platform enables a full health system solution (community health worker capacity building, education, screening, medical support, data collection, marketplace of products, and last-mile supply chains), and it all works offline and is all run by the communities, so can be implemented in any region.
We are constantly striving to improve our technology and our services and have new innovations launching all the time. For example, in the next few months, new launches include a new version of our health tech platform, a new patient-facing app, and a new health wallet and checkout feature to enable seamless mobile transactions in low-connectivity regions. We’re always listening to the feedback of our communities and partners to understand how we can improve existing services and design better solutions to meet their needs.
And working with new partners to expand into new countries and scale up fast is a big focus… 52% of the world can’t access essential health services, and we’re hugely driven to change this.
Your final thoughts?
Edward Booty: The pandemic has reinforced how important health is to everyone and ensuring everyone on earth has access to affordable healthcare. Yet the reality is over half the world doesn’t have this access currently, and there is still nowhere near enough focus on these poorly served, emerging markets. There’s been so much fanfare about the acceleration of digital health during the pandemic, but this is predominantly higher income, metropolitan areas.
Digital health can be the catalyst and enabler for accessible healthcare for everyone, but we need to build health tech services that reach everyone, not through stop-gaps but through sustainable new models that work for all actors – communities, providers, governments, and private business. It’s completely achievable and the time to do it is now, so work with us to make it happen!
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