A Champion of Grassroots Innovation
by James Higa, Executive Director, PVF
Medic Mobile's COO, Mainul Islam, & CEO, Josh Nesbit.
I first met Josh Nesbit when he was an international health and bioethics undergrad at Stanford. He had just returned from Malawi. What he saw and created there astounded me.
In rural Malawi, 2 doctors served 250,000 people. Some patients were walking 60-80 miles just to stay on top of the strict regimen required to treat diseases like TB and HIV. Volunteer village health workers were keeping records in paper notebooks and making round trips to the clinic every few days just to get this notebook stamped by a nurse. But here at the end of the earth, Josh noticed that he had 5 bars on his cell phone. There was better cell phone coverage than in many parts of the Bay Area.
This was his 'aha' moment. Instead of increasing the number of doctors and nurses, rural patients could receive better health care simply by improving communications. It drove him to create an SMS (text)-based electronic medical record system that ran on one notebook computer and the simplest of cell phones. Now, health workers can instantly send data to a clinic, and the remotest of villages in Malawi has an electronic medical record system on a par with Palo Alto.
When the earthquake in Haiti struck, Josh sent out the Twitter message heard around the world. "Reaching out to @FrontlineSMS users in #Haiti with hopes of establishing local SMS gateway for ushahidi.com". Using the same technology built in Malawi, people in Haiti could send a text message to report injuries or survivors trapped in the rubble, have it translated from Creole to English via crowdsourcing by organizations like Samasource, and have this message broadcast over the emergency worker frequencies within minutes.
A few years later Josh returned to the Bay Area to start Medic Mobile, and we asked him whether he had any local projects in mind. He replied with a "yes, we've been thinking about an SMS-based app that will automatically remind patients of their upcoming diabetes health education and medical appointments and request they confirm or reschedule upcoming visits." We funded Josh's idea within 48 hours.
This tool is currently being tested in a 6-month randomized-controlled trial at the Willow and Fair Oaks Clinics in San Mateo County in collaboration with San Mateo Medical Center (SMMC), one of the largest safety net healthcare providers for the uninsured in the Bay Area, to help diabetic patients manage their care.
Josh Nesbit encapsulates all that we believe in at PVF.
We are about finding good people and funding them. 45% of grants made by the top 1,200 foundations are under $10,000 and require 20+ hours to apply. We've known Josh and his work for years. Why would we have him labor through a process like that?
We believe in trust, not paper. We believe the philanthropic dollar should be the entrepreneurial dollar. We believe the right amount of funding without delay is what counts. We believe innovation cannot happen absent a spirit of adventure and being willing to risk a failure.
Medic Mobile is about creating simple yet powerful technologies, lowering the barriers to entry, and developing solutions that can be championed by anyone. Josh Nesbit believes in grassroots scalability. PVF believes in the very same things, and we believe in Josh.