Mobile Messaging Can Help The Fight Against Coronavirus

Press release – March 13, 2020

By Oisin Lunny, Forbes

Sometimes a personal tragedy can be the catalyst for life-saving innovation. Abi Global Health CEO Kim-Fredrik Schneider was inspired to work in healthcare after the death of his childhood best friend, Abraham Heitzeberg, who passed away aged 12 from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a rare variant of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Schneider named the company in tribute to his friend Abe’s kind and courageous spirit.

The Abi platform offers “fast help from friendly doctors” by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile messaging. This article can exclusively reveal that today Schneider and his co-founder Dr. Victor Vicens will announce that their platform will be made available for free, to potentially hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, during this crucial time in the fight against the coronavirus.

The Abi platform aggregates trained and vetted doctors within the Abi network, and uses an AI-powered chatbot interface to streamline the interactions. Abi helps to triage patients at the all-important “first mile” of the healthcare journey by effectively allocating physician time, and reducing potential bottlenecks in the healthcare system. The platform has been shown to deliver an 85% reduction in physician time per case and a 70% reduction to in-person medical visits. Differentials such as this can be game-changing in scenarios such as the current spread of coronavirus.

Schneider explains the reasons behind Abi with genuine passion and a sense of urgency in his voice. “Not only do we have an aging population who need more healthcare, but the younger ‘messaging generation’ is not getting what they need the most, because they are not comfortable with the existing methods of consultation.” The first mile of healthcare is often too cumbersome, particularly for millennials and centennials, continues Schneider. “Downloading an app, finding a private space with good lighting and a stable internet connection, getting dressed and ready for a video call when you are feeling unwell; these barriers can be a terrible user experience (UX) for people used to instant service via their mobile devices. A bad UX can lead to inefficient healthcare utilization, which takes a huge financial toll on society; the cost of people going to the doctor when they shouldn’t is $50bn, while people not going when they should costs at least $500bn.”

“We want to remove as many barriers as possible to people accessing healthcare consultations,” continues Schneider. “Abi users don’t even need to install an app; they just start a conversation with our chatbot on their preferred messaging channel such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, Viber and even SMS. A licensed physician is on call to provide a micro-consultation and typically answers within five minutes. Our AI allocates the best doctor for each situation, and ‘human in the loop’ machine learning is used to improve the platform with every interaction. Our data shows that consumers love the convenience; we see up to 20 times higher utilization compared to some of the leading apps in the same space.”

The Abi Global Health product is a smart distillation of an idea whose time has come. Other players in the mobile telehealth ecosystem include giants like the Tencent-backed WeDoctor, which is aiming for a $10 billion valuation when it goes public, and Ping An Good Doctor, which recently broke the astonishing figure of 300 million registered users, the equivalent to one in every three Chinese Internet users. When WeDoctor launched a platform dedicated to coronavirus-relates cases, they helped to facilitate 1.4 million consultations within a month.

In the US, 98point6 has been a trailblazer for text-based telehealth solutions via their secure mobile app. 98point6 is on-demand, text-based primary care that connects board-certified physicians licensed in all 50 states with patients 24/7. Leslie O’Brien, their director of national account management and client experience, explains that while the platform offers voice, video and audio solutions, text is by far the preferred modality of communication. “The overwhelming majority of our patients prefer to have their visits via in-app messaging. It’s simply easier and faster to text than it is to have a conversation these days. We have found that this is true not only for millennials and centennials but also the 55+ age group. When you think about it, they are having to text with their children and grandchildren, so texting with the doctor is just as convenient and easy.”

Data from companies in the mobile messaging space certainly backs up many of O’Brien’s findings. OpenMarket’s 2017 survey of 500 millennials found that 83% would rather text a business than call a helpline, while the recent 2020 State of Texting report by messaging innovators Zipwhip found that the medium of text is more popular than ever. Zipwhip CEO John Lauer explains, “Texting is becoming the preferred way for consumers to get information quickly and easily; literally, it’s right at their fingertips. I believe that texting is the highest-priority form of communication on the planet.”

The difference between text-based consultations and traditional hospital visits are significant, continues O’Brien. “We have found that health care is not meeting people where they are, and I think this is universal. In the United States, the average wait to see a primary care doctor is 24 days. So, no wonder people are running into urgent cares and emergency rooms. Because if you have a sinus infection, you can’t wait 24 days for a doctor. Text-based primary care is meeting people where they are, on their mobile devices. We want to be ridiculously affordable because we want people to actually use it. We want people to not have to make a financial tradeoff to take care of themselves.”

The benefits of text-based consultation platforms become even more apparent when viewed in contrast to the alternatives, continues O’Brien. “If we can help answer a patient’s question quickly, they are less likely to search the web to self-diagnose, because who knows what healthcare advice they’re going to get online! Also, we do a post-visit survey and one of the questions we ask is, ‘If you had not had access to our platform what would you have done?’ One of the responses is ‘I would have done nothing.’ We’re diving into that deeper and deeper each month, trying to better understand why they would have done nothing. What we are finding is that if we can catch things early, or keep people healthier earlier, we know that down the road this is going to help not only the person individually but also the overall system.”

Schneider agrees with this last point emphatically. “For most people, healthcare is not something you plan for. How many times do you plan to get sick this month? Health can pivot from being something you take for granted to suddenly being the most important and most urgent thing in your world. In these stressful times, part of our job is to stop people from doing nothing or asking ‘Dr. Google’ for healthcare advice; the scope for misinformation is a real danger. We make it as easy as possible for people to connect with trained and vetted human doctors to offer qualified consultations. Our platform not only helps to onboard people immediately so that they can get the right information at the right time, but it also helps the healthcare industry to manage its most valuable resource, the consultation time of trained physicians.”

To follow today’s announcement by Abi Global Heath on free access to their micro-consultation platform during the coronavirus crisis, please visit their LinkedIn page at linkedin.com/company/abi-global-health.