Covid-19 is a serious risk for the estimated 4,6-million people with diabetes in South Africa as high blood sugar levels increase the mortality risk posed by the pandemic.
Digital healthcare solutions are emerging as effective tools for safe, remote condition management and one local company has attracted investment to take on the challenge.
“Covid-19 is far more serious for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension,” says Professor David Segal, chief medical officer and co-founder of Guidepost. “A recent study by the provincial Health Department in the Western Cape found that diabetes was a factor in more than half of the province’s Covid-19 deaths of people older than 20.
“As the risks related to chronic conditions are now more ‘real’, people are more aware of the risks and are taking the management of their chronic conditions seriously. They are looking to digital healthcare services such as telemedicine as safe, effective and efficient ways of managing their conditions.”
Guidepost is a South African business that has been innovating in the telemedicine space since 2012 and has grown rapidly into a national network serving leading health insurers, life insurers and pharmaceutical companies.
The Guidepost technology platform links people with diabetes to expert clinicians who provide remote one-on-one individualised diabetes education and coaching that reduces blood sugar levels and improves health outcomes.
Joint investment to scale up impact
AlphaCode, the fintech investment arm of Rand Merchant Investment Holdings (RMI), and the local investment fund of Endeavor, a global entrepreneur network, has recently concluded a joint investment in Guidepost.
“We believe in the work being done by Guidepost and continually invest in the technical tools that are enabling a technologically advanced future for our country,” says Dominique Collett, senior investment executive at RMI and head of AlphaCode. “Guidepost has demonstrated its ability to reduce claims costs for clients and improve the lives of thousands of diabetics and we’re excited to support the growth and development of their services locally and internationally through this second-round investment. We also believe that the skilled leadership team could roll out this methodology for other diseases and chronic conditions.”
Alison Collier, MD of Endeavor South Africa, adds: “Endeavor supports high-impact entrepreneurs that are scaling their business rapidly, and looking to grow to be the market leader in South Africa and expanding internationally. We’re delighted to be investors in Guidepost, helping a South African success story to scale their business globally leveraging Endeavor’s strong local and international mentor base.
“Guidepost’s service is particularly relevant given the Covid-19 crisis – offering diabetic patients improved healthcare while simultaneously reducing the total care cost for these patients as patients using Guidepost are healthier.”
The future of healthcare is digital
In April 2020, the Health Professions Council of South Africa updated their guidelines on telemedicine, ensuring telemedicine is easier to access.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown conditions have made digital healthcare services such as telemedicine the only option for many people, driving rapid adoption and use of the services,” explains Professor Segal. “Many people who were initially sceptical of digital healthcare have found, through this ‘enforced use’, that the services are easy to use, convenient, lower cost and often just as effective as in-person healthcare services.
“We believe these factors will drive a permanent shift to increased use of – and often preference for digital engagement with healthcare providers even after lockdown lifts.
“The recent investment will enable Guidepost to continue growing, serve its patients and support safe jobs for nurses and dietitians as diabetes coaches during these challenging times.”