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Digitizing Health

Digitizing Health

Pazion Cherinet is the Chief Executive of Orbit Health. Here, he reflects with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on the new company, on his vision of transforming the local healthcare system, on digitalizing it, on the new partnership with Mastercard Foundation and what inspired him to start the company and more.

Tell me about Orbit Health

Orbit Health is a digital health company based out of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with an office in the US. The company has been at the forefront of transforming healthcare delivery and building a resilient healthcare ecosystem in Ethiopia through innovative digital solutions over the past four years. The company builds software systems that are easily customizable to meet healthcare providers’ needs.

In addition to the digital health platform, Orbit Health has other product offerings in the pipeline such as O-Health, a patient engagement platform that allows patients locate the doctors they need and conduct in person or a remote audio and video consultation and O-wallet, a health finance and payment management platform.

How do you think would Orbit Health help the local health sector?

Over such a short period of time, our firm has helped manage the data of over 300,000 active patients and dispensation of over 3 million medications through the Orbit EMR+ system, our digital health platform.

Furthermore, Orbit Health has also been leveraging its diverse partnerships to consult governmental and non-governmental entities alike as its expertise aligns with their increasing health care related needs; thereby making it the first health-tech firm in direct partnership with the Ethiopian government and working to transform healthcare access and delivery at health facility level and beyond.

Most recently, we consulted on how COVID-19 laboratory data can be streamlined without friction, through digitization and information management. We were one of the few companies picked to assist with this critical task. The effort helped labs to provide accurate data in a timely manner to patients in need.

We are also planning to expand our services to other cities in Ethiopia and other African countries, and anticipate valuable impact in rural health care providers.

What is digital health?

There is no universal definition for digital health. Simply put, digital health uses technology to improve patient’s health and wellness. It is a very broad concept aspiring to connect and empower society to transition from a sick-care to preventive care, or personalized wellness. This is achieved through products such as mobile health, telehealth, telemedicine, health information technology which all also improve the quality of care, lower the cost of healthcare, and provide personalized health care for patients.  Along with patients, digital health tremendously benefits healthcare providers. Some of the benefits include reducing physician errors with improved access to medical information and data; thereby reducing costs and increasing quality.

I understand you are partnered with MasterCard Foundation. Would you tell me about that?

Orbit Health recently partnered with the MasterCard Foundation to pilot a digital innovation hub over the next year and incubate/ accelerate 15 digital innovators with a particular focus on healthcare digital solutions; from ideation to the product launch stages. This will create over 200 job opportunities directly or indirectly in Ethiopia.

Orbit Innovation Hub is unique due to its focus on youth and women innovators through its various programs such as WDI (women digital innovators) that benchmark other global tech hubs that have been successful in circumventing gender barriers and ensuring equitable access to opportunities. Furthermore, the hub will provide legal/admin-facilitation support, year-round continuous mentorship, and unique development programs tailored for each startup. In a country where more than 70% of the population is under 30 years old, the innovation hub also aims to progressively increase technology adoption by the general public, a critical pillar to creating an inclusive digital economy.

In conjunction with Orbit Health’s newly accredited continuous professional development (CPD) training program, the hub will be actively working on healthcare institutions, health and technology science colleges, and youth-based organizations to create gender and youth tailored leadership training empowering them to create innovate solution for Ethiopia’s health care problems and other socio-economic challenges.

What is the long-term vision of the company?

Orbit Health aspires to be the leading company in digital health information management system and implementation to healthcare providers throughout Africa; and will be working to improve healthcare access and delivery through an innovative, efficient, affordable, and scalable solutions.

What inspired you to start it? 

The Orbit Health journey and inspiration began when I came to Ethiopia for work while at Boeing for two weeks. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a life-altering journey for me - the two weeks trip planted a seed of possibilities within me.

While in that business trip, I had a chance to also visit family and my birth place, Addis Ababa. And several thoughts engulfed me. I noted that the city was filled with young people and plenty of opportunities to improve the way of life. From transportation to services sector, the city was experiencing a growing pain. I had this urge in me to begin working on closing the economic gap using technology as a vehicle.

Once I returned to Seattle, I paired up with Michael Grabham, Seattle’s tech leader, and we conducted several brainstorming sessions to figure out which problems to tackle first. Deciding to take an annual exploratory trip back to Ethiopia, I started building connections and networks on the ground. Among others, I met Girum Assefa, who would later co-found Obit Health with me.

I understand there is a personal story to it.

Indeed. On one occasion, accompanying a family member to a clinic, a life-changing experience was born.  Through the unbearable patient waiting time and lack of adequate healthcare documentation, an idea was born to explore better ways to alleviate such a pressing human problem.

Inadequate healthcare documentation and loss of patients’ records are common problems in Ethiopia as well as many of the sub-Saharan countries.  As Ethiopia’s population exceeds 100 million, the healthcare infrastructure, already strapped for resources, is overburdened. The country’s average doctor to patient ratio is 1:18,000, which is meager in comparison to that of 1:359 in the United States. Furthermore, an average of 20 million Ethiopian Birr (equivalent to 750,000 USD) worth of drugs expire annually from each of the 74 or so major hospitals in Ethiopia.

As a result, the economic burden of diseases is heavy across the board. The burden on each healthcare delivery facility is further exasperated by lost productivity and wastage of resources, which in turn leads to elevate the negative experience for patients.

Relieving this pain became the most urgent priority for Girum and me to tackle.

Tell me about the Orbit Heath platform.

In 2016,Girum and I gathered with a team of software engineers from Seattle, Dakar and Addis Ababa and started developing the Orbit Health platform – an innovative, module-based software that is easily customizable to meet providers’ digitization needs.  Orbit’s solution – the first web-based system in Ethiopia – is an interoperable and user-friendly digital healthcare management platform built in accordance with international standards.

After successfully piloting its patient records management tool at a Kidney Transplant Center, Orbit’s product offering has grown to include additional tools, such as Laboratory and Imaging, and Pharmacy and Drug Management solutions. The company since raised a seed investment, which enabled it to build the company’s capability to increase its reach to several healthcare facilities, impacting the lives of millions in Ethiopia.

Orbit Health believed capturing opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa requires tremendous amount of global collaboration, tenacity in solving local health challenges and the ability to see a changed operating landscape. Our team is very excited about the tractions we have observed so far through our clients that are using the Orbit digital platforms. Our vision is to maximize impact, reaching the maximum number of people in Ethiopia and to expand our service offerings to other sub-Saharan countries in the coming few years.