Chase Adam: A True Universal Health Care Plan
Four hundred million people worldwide cannot access basic health care. In many developing countries, a chief obstacle is not lack of political will or even funding – it's the crippling inefficiency of no-tech record-keeping that can eat up as much as 40 percent of a health care budget. Patients enroll on clipboards. Their insurance forms languish. Clinics wait weeks to collect payment. "The whole system starts to disintegrate," says Chase Adam, co-founder of Watsi, a tech startup that's set to modernize the monstrous bureaucracy of health care around the world.
In Adam's vision, national health systems in developing countries will soon be able to leapfrog their health systems from the 19th century to the 21st. Watsi has pioneered a system for smartphone-powered health care. "You enroll, your data goes into an application once, you never have to fill out another form," Adam says. The Watsi app would connect to a national database of medical and insurance records, so that when a patient visits any hospital, "they have all your info."
The notion of cheaper, seamless, hassle-free health delivery would also be welcome in the United States. But Watsi is piloting its health technology solution at a convent-run hospital in Rwibaale, Uganda. The company began in 2012 as an online crowd-funding site. Back then, people could pitch in to fund surgeries of patients in the developing world – including the Uganda hospital. But soon the dozen or so nuns at the convent asked for some more Silicon Valley know-how. "They'd wanted to start a community health insurance system," Adam says. A skeleton crew of Watsi staff moved to Uganda and began coding. Today, Watsi's system serves 6,000 villagers – with insurance that costs less than $1 a month.
A San Franciscan surfer, Adam, 31, cut his teeth after college by working on health care in Haiti. A stint in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica spurred him to launch Watsi. The lightbulb went off when he saw a woman on a bus asking for donations for her son's surgery – Adam decided that crowd-funding should serve the need.
Adam compares Watsi's current phase to Netflix's evolution from mailing DVDs to streaming. "Internally, we call it 'cuspy' – it's right on the cusp of being possible," he says. "But what we're doing wouldn't have been possible five years ago." TD