William Mapham gives hope to the blind. The South African eye doctor is not a miracle worker, yet he does restore vision and remove barriers to medical services for those most in need. Vula Mobile, launched in 2014, connects on-the-ground health workers to specialists. Vula Mobile is a tool in the hands of health workers and specialists, with patients as the primary beneficiaries.
Vula Mobile won funding and mentoring in the 2015 African Entrepreneurship Award. When asked about the impact on his idea, the upward swoop of William’s hand speaks volumes. In a word, he simply says “Growth!” The company has grown, and the impact on the health care industry – patients and practitioners alike – is immeasurably positive.
During his time in Morocco as a Finalist in 2015, William was able to articulate his vision for change with the help his coach, who he said “helped me improve my communication regarding Vula.” Ever since then, things have been looking up for Vula Mobile’s thousands of impacted doctors and patients.
The stories of Vula Mobile’s impact can only be described as profoundly life-changing. William recounts the story of a boy in a village who had boiling water thrown in his eyes. The patient, rural and remote, could very well have gone blind without immediate treatment; however, hours would have become days before a specialist could have seen the boy. Enter Vula.
William says that “the health worker was taught by the on-call specialist and shown on Vula how to treat the patient on the spot with a very simple but special technique.” The boy’s vision was saved. William continues, “Just weeks later, another identical situation happened and another doctor treated it correctly. The health care workers had shared the knowledge they had learned on Vula throughout their clinic.”
Since winning in 2015 Vula Mobile has gone from impacting 150 patients per month to 2,000 per month. William expects that it will not be long before that number reaches 5,000 patients per month as Vula quickly scales up and more health care workers use the app.
And, what started as an app strictly for ophthalmology has now grown to include 14 other specialties, including cardiology, orthopedics, and burn specialists. The demand continues to grow and with the help of specialists, William continually develops the platform to increase the potential impact on patients and doctors.
As of November 2017, Vula Mobile has 550 health care specialists and 3000 general practitioners on the platform. Williams says, “The number goes up every day!”
What started as a one man team of William, a life-long tech tinkerer, now includes a full time legal advisor to navigate the sensitive medical industry, as well as a part time business partner, a web specialist, five tech developers, three testers, and a team of three business advisors.
Growth Meets Great Need
Great need drives this impactful growth, and Vula Mobile has tapped in to deep needs in the South African medical sector. There are only 60 doctors for every 100,000 people, well below global averages. As a result, patients suffer. Vula Mobile meets these needs with an innovative solution.
So, instead of the rural, pregnant mother traveling a long way to a city with little sense of what her condition may be, a health care worker in a clinic, using Vula, can quickly make a preliminary diagnosis and refer the woman for specific treatment.
Patients and Practitioners Impacted by Vula
Interestingly, this increased knowledge for on-site nurses and health care workers initially resulted in a 30% decrease in referrals. These health care workers were empowered to act based on the medical information provided by Vula. William says that “more people get treated at the appropriate level and patients do not travel unnecessarily” to see specialists. And, for those primary health care workers, Williams says they “love this the most because they get better teaching, they are learning about patients, and they can deliver better service to their patients.”
As collective knowledge increases, William says “the nature of the referrals started changing. Health care workers and nurses have up-skilled as they get more information from Vula.” This was a pleasant surprise that William did not anticipate. In addition to impacting patients, Vula acts as an on-the-spot teacher to countless health care workers, inspiring them to learn more and deliver better results.
Hospitals and specialists receiving referrals have taken notice. An orthopedic specialist at a Stellenbosch hospital says, “We are already seeing a massive improvement in referral quality and interaction.” In addition, he says that at his hospital Vula is an “extremely important and effective medium that has improved our services immensely.” They are upskilling referring doctors, keeping better patient records, and saving massive amounts of time. And, the back-end technology is secure, putting hospitals at ease.
Life-Changing Improvements for a Broken System
In South Africa and in much of Africa, the process of patient referrals and remote access presents huge barriers for patients, as well as headaches for doctors. How can a simple app resolve this problem? Users of the app marvel, “wow, look at this technology!” With the flash of a cellphone camera, William chuckles and says, “It’s just a smartphone.” Smartphone technology, supported by medical expertise loaded to the software has revolutionized the way health care practitioners treat patients in rural areas and deal with referrals.
Take orthopedics. Traditionally, a patient with a broken leg in a village hundreds of kilometers from a major city would call a switchboard at a faraway hospital. Their name would be queued behind countless others. Eventually, an on-call nurse would call them back to gather basic patient information. Then, hours or days later, a doctor would call, order tests, and await results. The tests would then be returned and the patient would await the doctor’s call for treatment. In the meantime, the patient would still be waiting and suffering.
With Vula Mobile, a nurse or a doctor spends two minutes gathering patient information and symptoms, takes a picture of the injury, and sends it to an on-call doctor. The entire process happens on an easy to use smartphone app. In the meantime, the Vula app instantly loads the picture and symptoms, provides a basic diagnosis, and some temporary solutions to help the patient. And, with an average wait time of just 15 minutes, a specialist in a hospital messages back with treatment options. This specialist can communicate directly with the on-site health care provider with information on how to act. The entire process happens in a matter of minutes, instead of days. The results can be a simple as reduced pain, and as profound as a life saved. And, for specialists, there is no telephone hold time and no confusion about the patient and their needs.
“A small amount of specialist knowledge can make a massive difference to people’s health in rural areas. So what Vula does is it connects people who are in rural and under-served areas with people who can offer literally a few words of advice that can quickly change people’s lives.” –William Maphem
What started as an eye doctor’s simple vision to impact eye care in 2014 quickly grew into Vula Mobile and increasing impact across medical specialties. When he steps back and ponders the growth Vula, William says, “I don’t see myself as an innovator; I just want to improve health care for people in rural areas, whatever that takes. You can call that innovation, but it’s just doing what’s needed. You just do the thing that you want to do. So it’s not really innovation. It’s just being yourself.”
You can hear more about Vula from this Podcast: https://www.ekoneni.com/single-post/2017/11/02/William-Mapham-and-the-app-thats-changing-health-care.
For more on the impact and award winners, click here.