If there’s a universal characteristic of healthcare, it seems to be that the world over is dissatisfied. From Toronto and San Francisco to Taipei, there’s always something. Though there are a number of reasons for this, the signs point towards an ache for innovation that most world governments fail to meet in the best cases and outright stifle in the worst.
(The graph illustrates how the number of drugs approved approximately halves every 9 years per billion of USD spent on research and development. Source: Nature Reviews Drug Discovery.)
Beyond pharmaceuticals, healthcare costs have been exploding and will continue to
grow according to an IMF analysis released this year. The public sector isn’t known for its tendency to innovate simply because sticking with the status quo works. Having said that, three social enterprises are breaking this mould and are reinventing healthcare delivery.
iHealth, founded by a fellow University of Toronto alumnus Johnny Wang, is a social enterprise that delivers prescriptions to individuals and nursing homes. The service is not only convenient, but it also removes a non-trivial barrier to accessing medication for the elderly and infirm. To build trust and expand their client base, iHealth provides a free trial period for nursing homes with whom they hope to establish long-term partnerships with.
Zhishan Lohas offer subscription-based health services complimenting the government’s National Health Insurance system with access to exercise and yoga routines, healthy food, and health consultation. Since it is funded by a government capitation program, they get a percentage of savings they create for the healthcare system. The government tracks individuals who join the program to determine whether healthcare usage increases or decreases.
Over a hundred seniors who lived alone were found dead after a particularly frigid winter in Hong Kong. In response, the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association (長者安居協會) or SCHSA was founded, and has become very successful in meeting the gap in elderly healthcare delivery. They provide the elderly with remote controls to allow them to contact a 24/7 hotline to request emergency assistance. SCHSA is working with Nike to develop an emergency wrist-band; they keep meticulous logs; and identify broad trends using Big Data analytics. For instance, when they realized many seniors call due to loneliness, they began using their downtime to proactively reach out to their users. They’ve had more than 150,000 users and over 6 million requests for assistance.
Each of these three innovations have been enabled by their governments in unique ways. The most involved form of enabling is the capitation program the Taiwanese government operates with Zhishan Lohas. Such programs enable preventative healthcare enterprises in a system where there is already free access to national healthcare. In Hong Kong, the government provides seniors with a stipend (which covers the entire cost of the SCHSA service), allowing the consumer to choose the best service available. However, opportunities can also come out of regulation, like in the case of iHealth. Taiwan is unique in that there are no major chains of pharmacies due to the nature of the regulation. Thus, by a offering delivery service, iHealth can reach a level of scale impossible for individual pharmacies.
Social Enterprise Buzz is a media company dedicated to covering social enterprise news from around the world. We publish a range of stories from startups to entrepreneurship, innovation, and finance, which showcase business making the world a better place. Read more.