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Watsi builds technology for universal health coverage

It is estimated that over one billion people cannot afford medical care. The aim of Watsi is to overturn this state of affairs and empower anyone, anywhere to fund a low-cost, high-impact medical treatment for an individual who would otherwise lack access to necessary care. Watsi aims to do this by combining health and technology.

Watsi has the goal of assisting each country in the world that does not have universal health coverage to achieve this, so that each of the 193 recognized nations can provide adequate healthcare to its citizens. According to the World Health Organization, this means: “all people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.” It is a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that all Member States will achieve Universal Health Coverage by 2030.



The Watsi scheme works by a medical organization identifying a patient who requires low-cost, high-impact medical care. The patient profile is then submitted to Watsi and assessed using pre-determined criteria. Where the profile meets the criteria, Watsi accepts it and guarantees the medical partner that they will cover the cost of providing care to that patient.

At this point, utilizing a digital health platform, Watsi puts the profile online. Donors then review the profile and agree to fund it. Once funding is achieved the medical body provides care to the patient. The downside is that care is only provided once the funding goal is achieved. After the successful application of the treatment, the medical partner provides Watsi with details about the outcome. Watsi then proceeds to send the outcome onto the donors and notifies that the donors should transfer the necessary funds via a payment mechanism like PayPal. The funds then go to the medical body that undertook the treatment. The procedures covered range from simple ones, such as fixing a broken limb to more complicated surgical interventions like removing an eye tumor. One limitation with the model is that the treatments need to have a high likelihood of success and they do not tend to involve multiple operations or long-term care.

Additional support comes from other organizations, such as Patientco, the healthcare payments technology company. Patientco agreed to help fund Watsi by donating $5 to Watsi for every attendee badge scanned at its recent Annual National Institute of the Healthcare Financial Management Association booth.

Founded in 2014, Watsi has processed more than $9 million from 23,154 donors and it has funded healthcare for 13,772 patients. In 2017 has introduced new technology to build a platform that makes it easier to administer health coverage. This has come about through funding from YC Research. Through the platform, Watsi will attempt to improve the quality of care and reduce expenditure, such as by streamlining operations, minimizing waste and preventing fraud. The system can also identify medical errors in real-time. As this new project expands, and assuming it is successful, Watsi will provide the software to governments of developing world countries to allow them to fund healthcare more effectively and provide universal healthcare for their citizens.

People who are hospitalized in the United States risk acquiring healthcare-associated infections  wh...

People who are hospitalized in the United States risk acquiring healthcare-associated infections, which kill 75,000 patients per year, US health authorities said
Brendan Smialowski, AFP/File

In a statement, Watsi outline their primarily goal: “If we prove our system can make health coverage more affordable, we believe governments will adopt our technology to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage.”

Watsi is not only innovative in terms of the healthcare platform it offers; the scheme was the first non-profit funded by the seed accelerator Y Combinator. Seed accelerators are fixed-term, cohort-based programs, that include mentorship and educational components. Y Combinator is U.S. based example of a seed accelerator. Y Combinator interviews and selects two batches of companies per year. The companies receive seed money, advice, and connections in exchange for 7 percent equity.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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