Podcast Transcript: Mobile Technology Advancing Global Health

By Sacha Heppell - October 06, 2020

 

Mobile Technology Advancing Global Health - Interview with KP Yelpaala

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala,  is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of access.mobile, Inc. and a social entrepreneur with several years of experience in global health and international development, working in both the private and nonprofit sectors. He has lived and worked in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, with organizations such as the Clinton Health Access Initiative and Dalberg Global Development Advisors. Kaakpema is an Adjunct Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. 

Sacha Heppell

Welcome to Who Would Have Thought my name is Sacha Heppell, Chief Marketing Officer of SmartTab. I'm hosting this podcast with Robert Niichel, our Founder and CEO. Robert's experience in leadership and management of pharmaceutical research and development led to the founding of SmartTab in 2016 to combine wireless technology with pharmaceutical drug delivery, advancing high tech drug delivery systems for effective therapies that improve patient outcomes. Today we dive into the global personalization of health and the path to create innovative solutions to meet disparities in healthcare. We speak with an amazing founder and CEO leading the push to give health access to those who need it most. I'll pass it over to you, Robert, to introduce our guests today behind the mobile technology health revolution on a global scale. KP Yelpaala.

Robert Niichel

Thank you Sacha. I'd like to introduce KP Yelpaala, Founder and CEO of access.mobile, a social entrepreneur with years of experience in global health and international development, working in both private and nonprofit sectors. KP is also an adjunct professor at the School of International Studies, University of Denver. He founded access.mobile in 2011 Mobile Health enterprise and has offices in Denver, Kenya, and South Africa. Hello, KP and welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us today, we are really excited to learn more about your story and how access.mobile is leading a push and accessible personalized global health. So we'll just dive right in and start and I'd like to start out with the idea behind access.mobile.

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Great. Well, thanks so much. The story behind access.mobile really goes to my passion working on public health issues globally. And so I trained as a public health practitioner at Yale. And you know, in terms of my background, my family's from Ghana, and I was born in the US. So I'm a first generation American. And I always felt very privileged to have access to quality health care here in the US. And in certain cases, I saw that family members or people I knew in Ghana just didn't have that access, and sometimes unfortunately, just died of things they shouldn't have died of. And so for me, like I always had that initial passion of getting involved in public health and in a global context. And it's my journey started in Ghana. I started doing public health projects in Ghana, when I was young. And actually the first organization I created was a nonprofit organization, working on Rural Health Access in Ghana. Fast forward when I was at Yale, I became one of the early employees of President Clinton's Foundation, back then it was called the Clinton HIV AIDS initiative. And what we were working on was making HIV treatment available in African countries to people who are suffering from that pandemic. And I lived in East Africa for about four years, working with governments and the private sector. When I was living there, that's when I noticed something, I noticed that no matter where I went, in the African countries, I was living in urban or rural areas, everyone had a basic mobile phone, even in cases when there wasn't much else in terms of infrastructure. So that led me to ask myself, how can we use this basic mobile device as a tool to bridge the gap in terms of populations that need access to health information and services and those that don't have it. That was the seed or the origin of why I Founded access.mobile. And then in that journey we drew in Africa and then launched in the US, which we can get into.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that's, that's very exciting. And then, was there any particular you know, aha moment? You mentioned all this cell phones, and then how did you kind of make that leap into basically seeing the cell phones and an idea to actually move then to have an office here have an ongoing company? How did that progression play out?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

The aha moment? For me, it was really that when I looked at what was going on with digital health, and sometimes people call it mhealth, you know, there are two things I was living here in Denver. And so this was early in the digital health kind of trajectory in the US, a lot of people were focused on patient apps, and the consumerization of health care here in the US. And so but but in the African or emerging markets context, people didn't have smartphones at that time. So we thought a lot more about using SMS In SMS driven technology, because that's what everyone had. And so part of that aha moment was that we were not going to be an app company. But if we use the existing infrastructure and texting as a basis, we can reach everybody at scale. And then what we realized also was the advent of the cloud in African countries. So the thought was, if we could leverage the cloud, in African countries to basically tech enable hospitals and clinics, then that could be the infrastructure on top of which we could lay the mobile innovation and help transform the service delivery dynamic. And so that was kind of the aha moment where it made sense in the emerging markets context. I wasn't really looking at getting involved in the US at that time, though, I thought we could be global. It started as an African journey.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very interesting. So you touched on the very interesting to use existing infrastructure on the text and the SMS? Congratulations. That's a very neat breakthrough to recognize that as an opportunity, then, Could you expand on that just tell us more about how the platform works?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Great. Because we've been around for some time I founded the company in 2011. I like to talk about our evolution and phases. So phase one was primarily in East Africa, where I had already spent time living and working. And the technology we developed was really a cloud based solution that made it affordable, and scalable, to enable private health care clinics, particularly did well with specialists. So groups like dentists, ophthalmologists, but then also large health systems in these countries, and primarily private hospitals, to tech enable them. And that first phase was really about being an early mover, bringing software as a service to the East African context, were one of the first groups to bring that kind of business and tech model into the region, we started to get some traction. But what happens in that context is you're also doing a lot of market education, because people were not familiar with SAS. So this would look very much like the early evolution of practice management in the US in like the early 2000s, in late 90s, where groups were moving from on prem systems to the cloud. So we're going through that kind of market education dynamic, which is one of the adoption barriers, and then getting people to align to the concept of perpetual licensing fees as a business model. So we're doing a lot of things we were bringing the cloud, we're bringing a new type of business model, and we're bringing the mobile innovation on top of that. I mean, that was phase one in East Africa. Phase two was where we raised a Series A and we started to expand. And we're using a model where we are trying to get free trials or freemiums, we use both approaches to get clinics at scale. And at one point, we had about 200 facilities and 2 million people on the platform across six countries, what we did not have was substantial revenue. So we had an adoption curve that wasn't converting into revenue the way we wanted. And that led us to kind of phase three. And phase three of our model, which is where we are today, we hunkered down to partner with large scale social organizations, and governments, which are trying to solve care, compliance and other things using this type of technology at scale. And then we also launched in the US in 2018, realizing that text messaging was coming back. So what happened in the US is there's app fatigue. And frankly, we live in a notification based culture. Like as we're talking now, all of us are getting pings on our phone, to nudge our behavior to do different things. And while app adoption seemed to struggle in the US, people seem to come back to texting as the best way to reach people. And so what we built over time was basically a high skill compliant messaging engine, that's multi-channel focused on mobile, that can work in different jurisdictions, so different countries, different regulatory frameworks. And then behind that is a bunch of data science. So we use data analytics and behavioral science to figure out what messaging resonates with different people. So in the tech stack, there's a bunch of sophistication around the messaging. I mean, it sounds easy, but to be able to deploy our technology in a compliant way in the US and multiple African countries is not straightforward. And our tech can facilitate that multi-channel but then we've also moved to some pretty deep data analytics and predictive analytics type stuff as well.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very interesting. So expanding on that as you move into different countries, you know, each country kind of has its own outlook or perception on text messaging, does it interfere personal space, how many do you get, like he talked about nudging you to move in different directions, different activities? So how do you categorize and manage deploying this technology to the various different types of countries?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Right. So what we've had to do, I mean, a lot of our innovation, frankly, is around compliance and regulation. And as we know, there's two different streams or three different streams of regulation that are in flux globally that impact us. So one set of regulations is around consumer protection. So in the US, we talked about TCPA. And then certain states, such as California have launched their own specific and fairly assertive consumer protection acts around digital channels. And so on the one hand, when you're using the mobile channel, the irony is, it's the easiest way to reach people, but in healthcare, it's the hardest channel to use. And I think that's the friction we have in the healthcare space. Everybody wants to receive texts. But when you look at TCPA, California is evolving law, which is setting a benchmark for the country. And then everything going on with privacy and security. The phone number might be the most personal piece of digital information that someone holds. So that gets really interesting. So even though everybody wants to be reached there, the regulation creates a barrier, then that intersects with HIPAA. Right. And so then we've got HIPAA, which is the other overlaying regulatory framework. And then if you look at Europe, you've got GDPR. And GDPR, is really even the framework that people think everyone's going to move towards globally, which really puts individuals in the center of controlling their information, who can access it, who could use it for what, which, in principle, sounds practical, but in terms of implementing that, from a tech view becomes very complicated. So what we've done is we've abstracted all of that into general privacy principles. So if you look at these regulations globally, there are general principles that apply. And if you can embed that underneath your technology, then based on the jurisdiction you go into, you can apply those specific rules. And it requires a bit of sophistication. But it's the type of way we've been able to build our stack and how we approach looking at each country.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very interesting. So one more question for myself. And then we'll go over to Sacha for some additional questions as well. So anyway, you're also part of StartUp Health. And we wanted to just talk about how you join them what that means for your access mobile team and how they've been helping in, you know, moving your platform forward.

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Yeah, so StartUp Health has been great. I met StartUp Health, really, as I was making this evolution from being a primarily African based company, to really moving into more of a global implementation. And frankly, there are a lot of people that didn't believe that that was viable. And I think, you know, healthcare is very local. And so I think sometimes it's hard for people to see what's the connection point between populations in Kenya and your tech, and then, you know, California or Colorado where we're doing work now. And I think that was a tough evolution, because the market didn't really accept it. But I think those who have more of a global mindset and can see the vision of what I was trying to do, as a global ambition and trying to improve people's lives, they were able to be a part of that path. So StartUp Health was one of the groups that that believed in that transition, and could really see digital health as a global opportunity. And that a company like access, mobile was positioned to actually play globally, both in emerging markets in mature markets. And so we joined StartUp Health in late 2017, they've been a big part of helping us evolve our story and evolve our strategies to support working both in Sub Saharan Africa where the business is now really mature. It's basically a profitable business in Africa that runs while we're moving into hyper growth here in the US, since we launched in 2018. And so they've played that critical role. And I think because of their credibility in the space, they've been able to help bolster our story, particularly in this environment as we grow in the US, and people are trying to understand how we straddle markets.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very nice. Very nice. Well, thank you for all those nice answers. And I'll pass over to Sacha when he has some more questions. Sacha.

Sacha Heppell

Thanks, Bob. So KP, you've created us very strong and diverse team of leaders that access.mobile, how do you go about recruiting your team? And what's the best things about working with your team? And what's it like now, after the pandemic working together?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Yeah. So we believe strongly that when you build teams it's anchored by values. And so we have a kind of set of values that are core to what we do as a business. And really, it's those values that drive how we recruit, how we look at how we're doing as a team together. And it takes time as an organization, it's kind of like growing up, you get to know what you're about. So I think we've been able to get that strong foundation of values and then find some really great people. Like any growth stage company, we've been through many twists and turns, but I think now we've got a team that between the US and Africa is really strong. And the way we operate, is we operate two different regional PNLs. So the Africa team is based out of Durban. And we have some people in Kenya. And that runs as its own in essence operation. And then on the US side, we've got a US team, and that runs as an operation. But we think a lot of our differentiation relates to our ability to build the bridges between the insights across many populations. At this point, we're reaching people in about seven different countries. So a lot of our exec teams rule is doing that synthesis, particularly me, and allowing for people to learn based on the different insights across the markets. And then that makes each region even stronger, as opposed to saying, well, I'm in the US and the only thing that matters is what I'm learning in the US and I'm in an African country, and only things that matter are there. Actually are differentiation and kind of secret sauce is, we can see those connection points between markets, and our team is able to be open minded to learn that way.

Sacha Heppell

Wow that's extraordinary, and how do you see Denver as an emerging global city? Actually, Nairobi, Kenya is a sister city of Denver. And what do you see for Denver as a Health Innovation Hub, Health Tech and Health Solutions? And what does that mean for access.mobile?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Yeah, so since I've moved here, I've been in Denver for about 11 years, it's been a tremendous growth in the city. I mean, on so many dimensions, like one, the tech ecosystem has grown tremendously in Colorado, the digital innovation or digital health innovation ecosystem, health tech ecosystem has grown a lot. I mean, including all the work done at Catalyst Health Tech Innovation Center, with the different partners and Mike Biselli's leadership in the ecosystem. And then on top of that, as you mentioned, with Nairobi, being a sister city of Denver, if you look at DIA in terms of the international flights, and the international trade relationships between different parts of the world, and Colorado, and specifically Denver, even just being able to get a nonstop flight from Denver to Tokyo, or from Denver to Frankfurt, or, you know, like that type of connectivity, internationally, and then also into Central and South America, I think it's helping Colorado in Denver kind of grow. And I was on Governor Hickenlooper's Small Business Council and was a co-chair of the International Business subcommittee. So I've seen that happen and that'll continue to elevate Denver and Colorado into the International Business marketplace as well.

Sacha Heppell

Awesome. And what are the next steps for access.mobile as far as expanding to other parts of the world? And how is your team planning to expand those healthcare options for people around the world?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Right, so right now, I would say like the African market has matured, we look at the African markets as basically a center of excellence. That market is self sustaining and growing, they've got a great team. They've got some really interesting implementations they're doing using mobile messaging and predictive analytics, and using many different channels using SMS, using WhatsApp, using a technology called ussd, using chatbots. So a lot of what's happening is as we're growing in the African environment, and that Center of Excellence is seeding some of the product innovation that then we're using as we're growing really rapidly in the US. So I'd say the US is a significant market in terms of digital health, it's one that's growing tremendously. And it's the driver of our company's growth here and the US market. So I think a lot of our focus now is on how we hunker down and really find a great niche that we grow in here. And we're starting to get some traction, we just announced a significant partnership with Emory University, specifically with the medical school on on Covid-19 outreach for underserved populations, specifically black communities in the Atlanta area. We've got some interesting things happening around driving virtual care. So looking at you know, right now, people are talking about the intersection of patient engagement and telehealth. Because if people are not going into the facility, then obviously telehealth is part of offering the service delivery. But what happens before and after care? And in between visits, right? You would think that patient engagement, as it's defined in our space in the US becomes a critical element of supporting the adoption of virtual care, I think a lot of our evolution or you're going to see us moving into those spaces.

Sacha Heppell

Yeah, that's amazing. And, as you know, this podcast is all about digital health, innovation and the future of digital health. So I'd like to get your perspective on how you see healthcare evolving in the next 5 to 10 years. And how does access.mobile fit into that as well?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Right. I think that one thing that everyone's talking about a lot more is about value based care. I think every everyone would agree, that health care, frankly, is broken in the US. I don't think people argue that anymore at all. I think the argument is about how to fix it or what the evolution looks like. And I think that the movement towards value based care is one to really thinking deeply about money and how money is linked to actually improving individuals, healthcare journeys and lives, and not just thinking about money for the sake of money in healthcare. And I think that as that happens, there's another trend, so you've got value based care, and how that shifts payment incentives to align more to improving individual's health across the chain. And I think, you know, as you move from that, I think we're gonna see, obviously, virtual care is expanding, but I think that you have non traditional actors moving into the health space groups like Amazon and others. So I think understanding that healthcare is broken and that certain individuals might start to think, Well, why am I even paying for health insurance, but I can't get what I want? You know, what if I could just pay another third party and get what I want, right? I think the economics of health care and how the consumer approaches it, and what they're willing to pay for and do is probably going to disrupt the space. And I think we're seeing all the signals from your non traditional health actors coming in. So I think the next you know, 10 years, 15 years of healthcare, we'll see a lot of change out of necessity. And lastly, the issue of health inequities is front and center because of COVID. And so I think understanding, not only that there are health inequities and why, but doing something about it is, is even very now. So I think the hope is that those conversations and even, you know, it goes far to say the activism around letting people know that health inequities are unacceptable, and they're a part of the US's history of racism and systemic injustice for certain populations, including Blacks, Native Americans and others that, I think we should see some evolution there now and then into the future, because I think people are going to demand it.

Sacha Heppell

Yeah, definitely. And you're truly making a difference with the work that you do at access.mobile, serving underserved populations, and really transforming the experience of healthcare with these innovative digital health solutions that you're bringing world-wide. Thank you for your time. Thank you for the work that you do your team at access.mobile, I wish you the best success and thank you for coming on the show.

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Thanks so much. Really appreciate you guys taking the time to learn more about our story.

Sacha Heppell

Cool, and how can health care providers and potential partners contact you?

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

My email address is kp@accessmobileinc.com I'm also very active on LinkedIn if you want to find me there. And our website is accessmobile.io You can learn more about what we're doing there as well. But we're looking for partners, we like all kinds of partners, we're looking for partners around our growth in the US, we're looking for partners that want to work in global health. So I think no matter what your interest, we'd be happy to engage.

Sacha Heppell

Great, thank you KP.

Kaakpema (KP) Yelpaala

Great. Thanks so much, appreciate the time.

access.mobile website:
https://www.accessmobile.io/

Connect with Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala on LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaakpema-kp-yelpaala-379b269/
or by email kp@accessmobileinc.com

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