Startup Corner: Empowering Refugees with Personalized Healthcare

Jordan Lebovic, Contributor

This month, Jordan Lebovic (MD/MBA ’20) introduces us to Hikma Health, a nonprofit organization that is creating customized data systems for refugee populations.

Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to work on entrepreneurial endeavors improving healthcare access.

While in college at Columbia, I organized global health missions. On a mission to Guatemala, I was exposed to the stark divide in healthcare access that is often dictated based on where you were born. I met many patients with devastating illnesses who not only lacked access to potentially life-saving medications, but also were unable to see a healthcare provider for years. As I gained more clinical exposure within the U.S., I began to further appreciate the drastic disparity in healthcare access nationally based upon socioeconomic class.

I also became interested in healthcare software and device development through my experiences interning at tech startups, conducting medical research using computer programs and working in consulting. These interests then evolved into working on projects that use technology to improve healthcare access. One such project is Hikma Health.

At Hikma, we are creating custom health data management systems for refugee populations. We have been fortunate to have support from the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard I-Lab, as well as the support from winning the Grand Prize in the Social Enterprise Track of the 2019 New Venture Competition. 

What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

At Hikma Health, our goal is to help build a world where every person is empowered with personalized healthcare, no matter where they are born. In refugee crises, often patients have higher incidence of chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. In order to manage these diseases, it is critical to measure data longitudinally in order to better understand how the key clinical metrics are trending and how interventions affect each patient. However, currently much of this data is not being recorded, followed or acted upon. 

Electronic healthcare records that we use around the U.S. are not designed for low-resource settings. Rather than being primarily driven by making patient data easily recordable and actionable, they are often designed as billing and inventory management platforms for large complex institutions. Therefore, they are not prepared for connectivity issues and they are often not simple to use and understand. Furthermore, they are costly to implement and maintain— which can be difficult for refugee clinics. They also require too much time on the part of physicians treating refugee populations but the physicians may only have a few minutes to spend with each patient. 

What is your solution?

Hikma creates customized data systems for refugees and healthcare providers to improve patient outcomes. The Hikma product we created enables rapid data collection, analysis, and presentation for health professionals caring for refugees in different resource settings. We have both a web version and multiple mobile applications. Our main web product is accessible from any device, and stores information in a secure cloud SQL database. We have also built out custom mobile applications for provider use in the field. Current features of the platform include: drag-and-drop customizable workflows; automatic online and offline functionality; and Arabic, English, and Spanish language support. The Hikma system effectively improves access to health data for both patients and providers.

We released the Hikma product codebase for free open-source and worldwide use under the MIT license. While the architecture is modular, so that other software engineers can easily modify it to build more features to suit their needs, we have containerized a version of the platform with sensible defaults, enabling non-technical users to easily deploy our system around the world.

What was the inspiration behind you working on a project focused on the refugee space?

Here in the United States, it is often easy to lose sight of our roots. If we look back just a few generations, many of our families have refugee stories. Personally, my grandparents were holocaust survivors. Without the help of others to allow them to survive and ultimately escape, it is unlikely I would be alive today. Working on projects that strive to improve the health of refugees is a way in which I hope to pay forward what others have done for my family. 

Who is the team behind your startup?

Our team is a multidisciplinary group largely comprised of volunteers, leveraging our diverse skills to improve refugee health. Our business team, led by Hassaan Ebrahim, comprises individuals with deep backgrounds in management, operations, and marketing. Our tech team, led by Sam Brotherton, comprises developers and designers from leading companies, such as Amazon and Google. Our medical team, led by Dr. Michael Chilazi, includes physicians and allied health professionals with expertise in treating chronic conditions in diverse settings. Our team speaks ten languages, and several of us have spent time serving refugees as our patients or students. We are united by our passion for democratizing the digital revolution in healthcare.

What’s next?

We will continue to focus primarily on serving Syrian refugees for the next six months, deploying software for Endless Medical Advantage (EMA). We are a relatively small organization, positively impacting thousands of lives there, and we need to maintain our commitment to those patients first and foremost. At the same time, 2020 is the year in which we aim to scale our model to similarly improve outcomes for refugee patients in other crises around the world. So, we are now exploring potential partnerships with clinical NGOs in Bangladesh, India, Yemen, Uganda, Congo, Colombia, Haiti and Mexico, as well as within the U.S. One advantage of being a software organization is that with relatively small modifications to our core product, we can replicate our success at massive scale and low cost.

Jordan Lebovic (MD/MBA ’20) currently conducts research focusing on radiographic predictors of trauma, cost-effectiveness in orthopedic surgery and augmented-reality applications in operative care. He is also working on a project to better identify victims of intimate partner violence from fracture patterns. He serves on the executive board of Harvard Medical School’s Surgical Society as well as Harvard Medical School’s Makerspace. He has represented the state of Massachusetts as a delegate of Harvard Medical School at the American Medical Association. Before coming to Harvard, Jordan was a Healthcare Consultant at IMS Health (now IQVIA). He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with a degree in Biochemistry.