Founded during the COVID-19 pandemic, CribMD’s mission goes beyond safer appointments for patients and providers. In a real-life David and Goliath scenario, this Nigerian telehealth company is taking on a national healthcare crisis. In this fight, disrupting the market could save thousands of lives. Judging from CribMD’s first-year track record, this fledgling startup has a good chance of beating the giant.
Shortly before the pandemic began, CribMD CEO Ifeanyi Ossai, recognized that value-based telemedicine could improve healthcare access in his home country. With cofounders Lorna M. Johnson and Michael Ngiri, Ossai launched CribMD in June of 2020. The app-based platform has taken Nigeria by storm, and the rest of the world has taken notice. USA Today recently named Ossai, a graduate of both the Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in its list of top entrepreneurs 2021.
Plagued by a severe shortage of physicians and other skilled healthcare workers, Nigeria’s health system consistently fails on a national level. According to this map representing the global healthcare workforce by country, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Nigeria has about .381 doctors per 1,000 people, more than 25 times lower than the “insufficient” threshold of 10 per 1,000 identified in the WHO’s 2019 World Health Statistics report. In addition to the provider shortage, Nigeria’s health system is grossly underfunded, plagued by supply shortages and insufficient medical recordkeeping, while low salaries discourage citizens from becoming health workers.
Nigerians of all economic levels — including the wealthy — often wait in line for basic care, hospital access, and medical procedures, sometimes for nine hours or longer. In rural communities, medical care is often completely unavailable. Ossai’s passion for healthcare stems from childhood tragedy; although his aunt had the means to pay, she died due to a severe food allergy during the 450 mile trip from her village to the nearest clinic.
That experience lead Ossai to found WeCare in 2019, building four health clinics that still operate in rural parts of his home state. He intended to scale to 100 clinics across the country, but it soon became clear that the overload of patients would prevent expansion. Drawing on his business and tech background, Ossai and his executive team quickly pivoted to telehealth. “In asking ‘How can we better solve this problem?’ we decided to approach it like an ‘Uber’ or ‘Airbnb,'” Ossai said in a recent interview with Ventures Africa. “We decided that instead of our patients coming to us, we would go to them; see patients at the comfort of their homes.”
The platform eliminates the clinic and brings healthcare to the home through virtual visits and in-person house calls. Individuals and families purchase an affordable CribMD plan giving them 24/7 access to doctors. Pharmacists can also register with CribMD to offer prescription deliveries through the app. Corporate employee plans are also available.
The national state of Nigerian healthcare forces many people to rely on self-diagnosis, DIY treatments, and traditional medicine, even for severe conditions. But COVID-19 has expanded the use of Zoom and other connecting technologies that have bolstered the appeal of virtual healthcare around the country. Virtual visits through CribMD have made many women feel more comfortable with reproductive health care, while home visits have helped the company win over older patients. CribMD’s health plans include full coverage of ambulance and hospital care, a critical benefit as many Nigerians perform self-surgery out of desperation.
Interest in the platform has spread across the country at breakneck speed, and investors are flocking to back CribMD’s rapid expansion. With more than 5,000 registered doctors currently serving more than 2,000 subscribers, CribMD could make a massive dent in the country’s doctor shortage. Virtual healthcare clearly has the potential to improve dignity, quality of life, and even the life expectancy of the Nigerian population. Considering Ossai’s impressive determination and innovation, we can expect CribMD to become a global leader in the quest to revolutionize and democratize healthcare worldwide.