SUMANI Trendster Blog: Ilara Health

Ilara Health is a start-up diagnostic company based in Kenya that is trying to change the way healthcare is delivered.  Started in 2019 by Emilian Popa, Ilara provides lab-quality diagnostics to healthcare clinics that serve a low-income population in peri-urban locations. The need is great in communities like these across sub-Saharan Africa. The challenges are summed up by some sobering quotes, “3 million people across low and middle-income countries die yearly from lack of access to care” and “5 million people die yearly from receiving low quality health care.” Emilian saw a chance to change the staggering inequity of healthcare where “…500 million people across sub-Saharan Africa struggle to access or afford even a simple blood test.” He began to import mobile, high-tech diagnostic equipment that has replaced the large bulky equipment of the last decade in developed nations. Ilara currently offers four diagnostic devices (see appendix below) focused across chronic diseases, infectious disease and maternal care. There is a lack of awareness in this region about the growing pervasiveness of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition, preventative medicine is not a common practice as seen by the lack of a simple ultrasound for pre-natal care. Ilara is trying to change this by increasing awareness among doctors at the clinics of how to screen patients for chronic diseases, so they can manage their symptoms better, while expectant mothers can be screened for easily identified pregnancy complications. 

Our Net Impact team, comprised of Pamela Kauppila (project head), Alexandra Failla, Jeff Robertson and Will Zurier, was initially tasked with determining key social impact metrics and implementing processes to track those KPI’s. While Ilara had data from specific clinics and expected data directly from the devices themselves, we soon learned that the integrity of this data was compromised as inputs were inconsistent or not specifically relevant to the impact we were trying to measure. After this determination, our team decided to pivot to a new strategy to help create the relevant data for KPI’s. Our updated scope was to generate new and original data from clinics that Ilara serves and we did this by creating a “survey” for its clinic customers designed to reveal impact metrics. To ensure relevant data, we first had to discern Ilara’s key objectives:

  • Create a market: democratize access to diagnostic tests
  • Create awareness around chronic diseases: for both doctors and patients
  • Enable positive outcomes for patients: follow-up for patients once diagnosed
  • Increase profitability of clinics

We used input from management as well as the IRIS+ framework for guidance in crafting our questions. During the process, Ilara management was eager to expand the survey to not only to re-engage with their existing customers for KPI data but to also get feedback from them on how prepared they felt in using the devices, patients reactions to them and their ability to grow their clinic business given the addition of the new services they now offered. Once completed, Ilara’s reps began to administer the surveys to their clinic base. 

The early survey results began to shed some light on progress towards Ilara’s key objectives. In terms of awareness of chronic disease, clinics cite a slight-to-significant increase in awareness of diabetes while they see only a slight increase in awareness of cardiovascular disease (see image 1 below). Clinics confirmed that the convenience of having the tests provided “in-house” significantly increases the likelihood of a patient getting tested versus a referral to a lab, tying back to their objective to democratize testing (image 2). Clinics are showing increased percentages of patients returning for follow-up care after being diagnosed with a chronic disease (image 3). In addressing the growth factors associated with the clinics themselves, 40% of clinics indicated a higher level of trust among patients due to the offering of “high tech” devices while another 40% indicated that they were now able to attract a broader base of clients (image 4). While these results are early indicators, we expect to have a fuller picture once they have surveyed all ~50 clinics in their network. While the anecdotal nature of the output may not provide quantitative KPI’s, they will at least be able to show initial indicators of how they are impacting the healthcare clinics as well as the local communities they serve. More importantly, this provides valuable feedback to Ilara on how it is serving it mission and areas for improvement. 

Over the longer term, Ilara will begin to collect its own data directly from the devices utilized at the clinics and this will become a new project. Once they have this device data in hand, it will need to be analyzed, measured to benchmarks, and linked to the patient’s follow-up care. In our parting discussions, we recommended that they make comparisons of the results to other data sets to ensure consistency. This should include comparing device data with survey results, clinic results ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Ilara implementation, and test outcomes versus the national averages.

It has been a truly gratifying experience to work with a start-up with a big mission – to change the way healthcare is delivered. We saw first-hand the challenges Ilara faced and the opportunities they are pursuing. We wish them the best of luck as they continue to grow and expand! 

Appendix: 

Ilara Health currently offer four devices (clockwise from upper left): 

  • PixoTest device for diagnosing diabetes 
  • Kardia AliveCor EKG device for diagnosing cardiovascular disease
  • Hematology device for diagnosing certain infectious diseases
  • Butterfly IQ Ultrasound device for pre-natal maternal care 

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