Yale alumni startup aims to use tech to improve global healthcare access
In today’s world, health, medicine, and wellness transcend the medical facility. Healthcare providers need a holistic view of people — their environments, behaviors, and psychographic characteristics — to improve health outcomes and wellness.
To meet this increasing need for personalized patient care, two former Yale graduates (now a married couple) from Yale’s School of Public Health, Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala ’06 M.P.H. and Sara (Shamos) Yelpaala ’07 M.P.H., are leading access.mobile, a health technology company that provides a multi-channel engagement solution to enable tailored communication, support, and insights for underserved and multicultural populations globally.
Both alumni said they are passionate about global health and healthcare access for underserved communities. Sara Yelpaala worked on community-based HIV programs, and research in Tanzania, Swaziland, San Francisco, and Denver before doing communications and strategy consulting for a virology company focused on access issues. KP Yelpaala worked on rural health and development in Ghana and was one of the early employees of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, working on national HIV plans in East Africa and the Caribbean. He also worked at Dalberg Global Advisors providing strategy and management consulting to international and domestic organizations working in healthcare and international development
Since he was a student studying at Yale’s School of Public Health, KP Yelpaala, the CEO and founder of the company, says he has been relentlessly working to find new ways to improve access to quality healthcare service delivery. “As a first-generation American with Ghanaian parents, I have always been between worlds,” he said. “I see not only local and global disparities but opportunities, learnings, and innovations that can be shared and cross-pollinated between market contexts.”
Both in the U.S. and in sub-Saharan Africa, the alumnus noted the discrepancy between access to health care and access to mobile phones. Even where healthcare infrastructure was weak, mobile infrastructure was robust. People who faced many barriers to care — geographic, transportation, language, financial, provider trust, and more — often still had a phone and relied on it for communication and their livelihood. This interplay between health and mobile technology access was not isolated to a location but rather was more pronounced in underserved markets, he noted.
“It quickly became obvious to me that leveraging mobile innovation to improve healthcare was essential and could be an important solution for improving patient care especially in low income and traditionally underserved settings,” said Yelpaala.
In founding the company in 2011, the alumnus provided a mobile engagement solution to increase access to health services and information, with a unique focus on underserved and multicultural populations. Ugandans formed the initial customer base, but the company soon grew. Now headquartered in Denver, Colorado the company operates in the U.S., Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
“We were able to incubate and grow in East Africa, an environment that both fosters mobile innovation and has a great need for health solutions,” said Sara Yelpaala, vice president of strategy and marketing. “However, the engagement challenges and access issues that we were solving were not uniquely Ugandan or even East African.”
Yelpaala and his team soon recognized that the mobile engagement solution — including the technology platform, services, and expertise — translated well in other markets. With a patient-centered model, access.mobile’s solution adapted to locations with similar patient profiles and behaviors.
In 2015, Yelpaala connected with the co-founders of Sundial Brands, two Liberian-Americans who built a successful business that was acquired by Unilever in 2017. Early in his journey, these individuals, Richelieu Dennis, and Nyema Tubman, saw the potential for access.mobile both in sub-Saharan Africa and globally, and they invested in the business. They said they appreciated the mission, the market potential and the depth of commitment and expertise between the Yale alumni.
Currently, access.mobile serves leading regional hospitals in East Africa including The Nairobi Hospital. Since early 2017, the hospital’s patient engagement efforts have continued to expand and the hospital is now a market leader in engagement. Access.mobile is integrating with the hospital’s electronic record system and is now used throughout the hospital departments.
“With access.mobile’s technology we are able to provide relevant information to patients via mobile channels, and this has changed how we work with patients outside of the clinic,” said Gordon Odundo, CEO of The Nairobi Hospital in Kenya. “Our work together on patient communication and analytics has generated benefits for patients and measurable ROI [return on investment] for us, as we continue to expand these efforts. We can now efficiently and effectively be in communication with patients and provide them personalized health tips, health alerts, service information, appointment reminders, lab results, and pharmacy updates.”
In the U.S., access.mobile has adapted to a more mature health technology market, complementing health tech vendors including Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). Access.mobile is working with providers like Adventist Health White Memorial Hospital, based in East Los Angeles and serving predominatly lower-income Latinos. Using multiple data sets and a diverse team of behavioral science and multicultural communication, access.mobile delivers targeted communication through mobile phones to inform and support patients. The ongoing insights and support — from population analysis to message guidance to insight reports — is unique among patient engagement companies.
“Our journey has been different from a traditional health technology company. Working across markets gives us a unique perspective on solving problems and finding cross-market learnings, synergies, and solutions,” said Sara Yelpaala.
With the company’s stable and growing user base across continents, Yelpaala said, he is excited for the company to continue to grow, innovate, and improve access to healthcare globally.