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Hot startup of the month: South Africa's Quro Medical

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The African digital health market comprises a large scope of technologies that range from telemedicine and health apps to connected wearable devices.

The shift toward healthier lifestyles and the use of the Internet and smartphones has further sparked the increased growth in this market.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated growth in the healthtech market by making self-monitoring of health conditions more accessible to the public.

The healthtech industry is delivering care to patients in different ways, be it through apps, wearables or a remote companion. Before the pandemic, a person had to physically visit a hospital or a GP to receive medical treatments, but things are changing fast.

"It is common cause that avoidable hospital admissions are costly and have a negative impact on our health system. Historically, the limitations of traditional home-based care models and telemedicine could not offer a safe alternative that disrupts this trend," said Quro Medical Co-Founder and COO Zikho Pali in an interview with Connecting Africa.

Against that backdrop and to fill that void, in 2018 the South African-based company was formed by Pali and Dr Vuyane Mhlomi.

Derived from the Latin word "cura" which means attention, care, healing, cure, treatment, Quro Medical is a digital health company offering various remote patient-monitoring solutions, Pali explained.

"What we are famed for is pioneering the continent's first technology-enabled hospital-at-home solution that combines in-home and virtual visits with remote monitoring, offering patients timely, hospital-level care in their homes," she claimed.

"This means that we can now offer patients and their healthcare providers a safe alternative to hospital general ward admission," the COO continued.

She said Quro Medical goes beyond traditional telemedicine and home care. It incorporates clinical data as well as remote patient monitoring to close the gaps that are often found in traditional telemedicine approaches.

"Moreover, we bring all of the essential elements of hospital-level care to the patient's home, including IV therapy, short-term oxygen, skilled nursing, and laboratory services, just to name a few," she continued.

Quro Medical app creation

Through a referral letter from a doctor, patients can access Quro Medical's facilities in lieu of general ward hospital admission. This is done to reduce a patient's length of hospital stay, or when the patient requires additional care and monitoring post-discharge.

Furthermore, the startup has a mobile app for doctors to enhance efficiency and promote greater care in the treatment of their patients on the Quro hospital-at-home program.

"The mobile app is a carbon copy of the enhanced hospital-at-home web application, and everything that patients can do on the website interface they can do on the app on their phone or tablet device," she said.

Quro Medical incorporates clinical data and remote patient monitoring to close the gaps that are often found in traditional telemedicine approaches.   (Source: Image by DCStudio on Freepik)
Quro Medical incorporates clinical data and remote patient monitoring to close the gaps that are often found in traditional telemedicine approaches.
(Source: Image by DCStudio on Freepik)

Moreover, the app is an enhancement to Quro Medical's hospital-at-home capabilities, with expanded functionalities and ease of access to patient care.

The app allows doctors to monitor their patient's vital signs, including heart rate, ECG, blood pressure, respiratory rate core body temperature, and oxygen and sugar levels.

When there is a sudden change in a patient's vital health data, the Quro system alerts the Quro command center, which immediately informs the in-care clinical team to mobilize early intervention, all in real-time, 24/7. If needed, the doctor will be notified immediately and via the app.

The mobile app also allows doctors and the Quro Medical care team to have on-demand or scheduled video consultations with their patients.

Subscribers can download the Quro Medical app on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Regulation challenges

Even though the healthcare industry in South Africa is highly regulated and startups must comply with various laws and regulations, there is, however, a lack of regulatory frameworks specifically addressing healthtech startups.

"South Africa's regulatory framework has had a minimal impact on our operations. However, we do welcome the permanent relaxation of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) guidelines following the global pandemic," Pali added.

"The relaxed guidelines now allow telemedicine providers to offer first-time consultations, which is likely to encourage more innovation in this area, which we hope will ultimately benefit patients and our overall health system," she continued.

Expansion and competitive advantage

There has been an increase in healthtech platforms in Africa recently and Quro Medical has been eyeing opportunities outside of SA.

Furthermore, there are other healthtech startups that are digitizing healthcare sector in South Africa. These include companies like digital app Zoie Health, which is on a mission to raise the profile of South African women's health matters by giving women access to affordable health services at their fingertips.

Quro Medical Co-Founder and CEO Dr Vuyane Mhlomi   (Source: Quro Medical)
Quro Medical Co-Founder and CEO Dr Vuyane Mhlomi
(Source: Quro Medical)

Another company in the South African space is Peach Health, which is using technology to improve healthcare delivery in rural areas. The company has developed a mobile app that enables patients to connect with healthcare providers and receive remote consultations.

However, Pali said what makes Quro Medical differentis that it has created a sustainable value-based reimbursement model that aligns incentives and adds value for all the necessary role players, including patients, healthcare providers and medical aid schemes.

"Our services are fully reimbursed by most medical schemes in South Africa. Additionally, given the relative affordability of our offerings, we also have a subset of cash-paying patients," she added.

Navigating SA's economic landscape

The South African economic landscape has been difficult to navigate. However, Quro Medical believes its offerings take those challenges into consideration.

"Acknowledging the realities of the country's economic landscape has been pivotal to ensuring that our innovations are not only technologically advanced but also financially sustainable and accessible," Pali explained.

"Additionally, this positions us well to try and shape the trajectory of progress and drive positive change in the country and the continent at large," she said.

Furthermore, Pali said the difficult economic landscape should not deter anyone from getting into the sector. She was driven to enter the space because lack of access to quality healthcare services is an urgent problem on the continent, she continued.

"Technology has the potential to be a highly impactful enabler. However, technologies need to be relevant to the continent's needs. For this to happen, diverse voices and perspectives are required around the table, which necessitates the inclusion of women, who constitute a significant portion of the African population," Pali concluded.

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*Top image is of Quro Medical Co-Founder and COO Zikho Pali. (Source: Quro Medical.)

Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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