The quintet behind Calgary’s Inuka Health is determined to break down communication barriers for immigrant families accessing the healthcare system.
Founders SeInyenede Onobrakpor, Krystaleen Nichol, Ryker Rumsey, Rukevwe Inikoro and Forest Park, came together during a 2019 health innovation competition. There were 30 challenges posed to attendees with six weeks to put together a minimum viable product (MVP).
Their task: Come up with a solution for when doctors and patients don’t have a common language. It came from a health practitioner working in Tanzania that said it’s a big problem in their clinics.
Onobrakpor, who has a background in clinical medicine and a master’s in public health, said one of the biggest challenges in this is that quite often different languages don’t have a specific translation that’s medically correct. That makes accurate diagnosis a challenge.
“We recognized how things can change for a patient, once there’s a wrong diagnosis, how the patient can go down a wrong trajectory, when he could have just been corrected,” she said.
The Inuka solution
They’ve created an app that a patient could take into a doctor’s office to get a common consultation – say, a pregnancy check.
There’s a script of questions that leads both patient and doctor to the proper diagnosis and care by a providing a continual accurate translation of typical questions.
One feature they’ve added, said Park, is the audio translation of the content, because some newcomers may not be able to read the text content.
“The patient can hear the question because most likely they’ll still understand the spoken language,” he said.
Park also said some question lend themselves well to a multiple-choice answer – again, taking the translation barrier out of the patient’s medical presentation.
“In that way, we try to establish a two-way communication more than a one-way communication between the patient and the primary caretaker,” Park said.
Bringing the group together
The group got thrust together because they sat at the same table back in the 2019 global health innovation challenge. The team bonding process, despite not knowing each other to start, has been seamless, said Rumsey.
“It just seemed natural,” he said.
“You know when you’re working with good people, hard workers, you can tell that from a couple of minutes with them.”
At that initial competition, with more than 500 attendees, people were coming up and asking questions and when they saw the product in action, Nichol said people immediately saw the need.
“It made us sit down and ask, ‘OK, do we want to go forward?’ Nichol said, but the reaction sealed the deal.
“It’s not even a choice if we want to; we need to do this or else we’re missing out on a huge opportunity.”
The ultimate catalyst though, was seeing the impact this solution could have on people’s health outcomes, said Onobrakpor.
Building the company foundation
Park said there are multiple applications. Health is the biggest and broadest. But he envisioned the same system being used for onboarding in school systems, or banks, too.
To do that they need to be business ready and investor ready.
That’s what their participation in the Junction program with Platform Calgary is providing.
It’s allowing them to identify the areas they need to put together “like a fine puzzle,” Onobrakpor said.
They’re testing the idea in Calgary because they identified a need here. Inuka can execute in a smaller, controlled environment to work out any kinks.
“We want to build a business. We want to have a Calgary company – a global Calgary company. I think we want to build something bigger. It’s exciting times here,” said Rumsey.
Park said people don’t realize the value a viable tech industry could have in the city.
“It could actually have a lot of impact with minimum input. And I think that’s the biggest kind of advantage that technology has,” he said.