Kangpe is a mobile health startup that allows people to receive answers to their health questions 24 hours a day from verified doctors via SMS, mobile app and web. With an average of 2 doctors to every 10,000 people, Africa has the lowest Doctor to Patient ratio in the world.
Further compounding this is the fact that large numbers of African doctors emigrate abroad for better opportunities, creating a talented but inaccessible pool of doctors of African origin. Thus many Africans do not have the means to regularly access a doctor and those with the means endure inefficient hospital systems.
This creates a climate that makes it difficult for Africans to get the right information to live healthier lives and allows the widespread propagation of misleading information, worsening an already dire health situation as people do not have the right information to take the right action. Kangpe users send their questions via mobile app, SMS or web. Kangpe then routes it to one of the Doctors on the system who then provides an answer. This answer is then relayed to the user.
Kangpe’s business is a brilliant idea for anyone in Nigeria where there are very few medical professionals. You have a problem and need to quickly talk to a doctor; Kangpe makes that a possibility. Three Nigerians – Femi Kuti, Ope Olumeken and Matthew Mayaki – launched Kangpe in 2016. It now operates in Kenya and Ghana with excess of 60,000 users. In an interview with TechCrunch, Femi Kuti, the CEO, noted that using Google search may not be optimal on some health related issues: “Kuti also points out the platforms working in the U.S. don’t exactly translate to care in Africa. “Google doesn’t know about African disease”. That statement is the core of this insight today, because Google is doing something to improve its search engine to provide relevant health feedback to users, at local level.
Kangpe is one of the Nigerian entities in the Facebook Free Basics which makes it possible that one can browse its contents for free without metered Internet. In other words, you can read its contents, and you will not be worried that your mobile browsing credit will be consumed, depending on the phone company providing your service.
Google understands that the best of its search business can only come when it has the best data. It is working with local institutions across Nigeria to deepen that data integrity. It may not necessarily be good news for Kangpe business model: Google will soon have the capabilities to understand local health disease issues through a partnership with University of Ibadan.
The announcement was made on Thursday at ‘Google For Nigeria’, an event which had in attendance for the first time in Nigeria, Sundar Pichai, Google CEO. Health Cards is one of the several updates added to Google Search in a bid to bring more useful, relevant answers and information to people in Nigeria.
Here are the functions of Health Cards, Knowledge Panels and Posts on Google.
Health Cards: Later this year we’ll launch more than 800 knowledge cards detailing common symptoms and treatments for the most prevalent health conditions in Nigeria. We’ve partnered with the University of Ibadan to ensure that answers have been reviewed by Nigerian doctors for local relevance and accuracy. Nigeria is one of the first countries where we’re providing locally tailored health answers on Search.
Just like that, Google will be providing some features of what Kangpe provides to the market. But of course, Kangpe will still have its phone-based service. It can generate revenue from that model.
What Kangpe Needs To Do
Kangpe will have to innovate as Google moves into the aggregation of local health data. It can connect patients to clinics, health insurance and also deliver care directly to patients. The company has already hinted on these elements in the referred TechCrunch article.
Kangpe’s core business strategy is delivering quality local medical information at scale. If it loses the edge on the web over Google, it must pivot. The model of phone call will remain challenged by scale: how many doctors will they have in the system to support the users? Also, the challenge of phone calls (i.e. making phone calls is expensive in Nigeria as it is pay as you go) limits that model for many Nigerians. So, at the end, it is information discovery that will give Kangpe the best path to a sustainable business. That means, they have to build a platform that does aggregation between patients and clients just as Airbnb and Uber do for housing and transportation respectively. Kangpe can generate enormous value within the aggregation construct.
Under the aggregation construct, the companies that control the value are not usually the ones that created them. Google News and Facebook control news distribution in Nigeria than Guardian, ThisDay and others. Because the MNCs tech firms “own” the audience and the customers, the advertises focus on them, hoping to reach the readers through them. Just like that, the news creators have been systematically sidelined as they earn lesser and lesser from their works. But the aggregators like Facebook and Google smile to the bank. The reason why this happens is because of the abundance which Internet makes possible. Everyone has access to more users but that does not correlate to more revenue because the money goes to people that can help simplify the experiences to the users who will not prefer to be visiting all the news site to get any information they want. They go to Google and search and then Google takes them to the website in Nigeria with the information. Advertisers understand the value created is now with Google which simplifies that process.
However, with Google going into this space, Kangpe will have to find a clever way to structure its business. It cannot just focus on making general information as it does now on its website. It has to build a defined service which must possibly involve subscription by offering value to patients and doctors. Patients pay annual fees to be linked to doctors. That access to doctors is a model that Google Search cannot replicate. But mere information discovery is on direct competition with Google and with Google’s partnership with University of Ibadan, Kangpe may be unable to compete in that space.
The arrival of Google in the ultra-deep local data business will put pressure on many local companies in Nigeria, as it scales its new products like Health Cards, Knowledge Panels and Posts on Google. Specifically on the medical area, Google is a force for good, and it has all the rights to do what it is doing as Africa will benefit. We need to have more data online to support commerce and trade and Google is investing more than any other company in that space. As it works with University of Ibadan, we will suddenly have access to quality healthcare data on the web, instead of in shelves not accessible by the Nigerian people that fund the university. However, entrepreneurs whose businesses focus on making local data available online will struggle because Google will possibly build better ones and will likely direct traffic to its own contents (which are always better). The challenge for entrepreneurs will be building businesses that deliver service on top of data, beyond the level of mere discovery. For Kangpe, it has to find a way to get people to pay, preferably through subscription, to facilitate linkages between doctors and patients. With that revenue, it can offer many services which Google Search cannot do, and that includes connecting patients to clinics, helping them on the right health insurance product and delivering minimal phone-based care in real-time.