Flare: This startup is building an Uber for ambulances

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  Published 08 Jul 2016
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Nairobi, like many cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, has no functioning emergency response system such as 911 in the US. Instead, emergency response is operated by a series of uncoordinated private ambulance companies. During an emergency, a patient must call every ambulance company individually, hoping one will have a nearby vehicle that is available and carrying the right equipment. Even if the patient reaches an ambulance operator, none have digitized dispatch systems and, therefore, the ambulance provider does not know if an ambulance is available and where it is located.

Due to the complicated processes on both the patient and ambulance sides, it takes up to two hours to access an ambulance. In some cases it can take even longer. In New York City, a city that is double the size of Nairobi, it only takes 6 minutes.

Nairobi’s long waiting times are not due to a lack of ambulances. In fact, there are enough based on the WHO recommendation of 70 for a city with the size of Nairobi. The waiting times are caused by the lack of efficiency when it comes to meeting the demand: The operating ambulances run at only 10–30% capacity. Most ambulances sit idly in parking lots waiting for patients and only half of the available fleet is even running on a daily basis. Obviously, the problem is to meet the patients’ demands with the available ambulances.

Flare is a company that tries to solve this problem with a digital infrastructure inspired by Uber’s transportation network. The team developed an app that aggregates privately-owned ambulance companies into an interface for patients and hospitals. It is a digitized emergency response system built for the African context. Flare integrates the various private ambulance companies into a single dispatch system. In its first iteration, an intelligent web-based platform allows existing dispatch centers to track and manage their vehicles. Smartphones inside the ambulances running on an Android application track ambulance activity, ambulance location, and allow operators to accept jobs, get navigation assistance, and directly contact patients or hospitals.

Data has shown that every minute saved can increase the chance of survival by 8%. In Kenya there are around about three million emergencies per year and around 300-450 thousand end in death. Even if only 10% are attributable to slow response times, potentially 30-45 thousand lives per year could be saved. Across Africa, this translates to 700 thousand to 1.5 million lives that can be saved each year. Hopefully, with Flare’s digital ambulance infrastructure and similar services, those numbers might be reduced in the future.

Recently the team, led by Caitlin Dolkart and Maria Rabinovich, was accelerated at the Merck Accelerator Program in Nairobi. With access to a global network of 50,000 experts around the world and locations in Germany and Kenya, the Merck Accelerator supports startups in the fields of healthcare, life science and performance materials.

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