Maryse Suppiger
June 28, 2019

Founder Feature: Akiri

Data privacy and security is one of the largest challenges facing the healthcare industry. Medical records sell for $1000 on the dark web. Healthcare organizations spend thousands of dollars thwarting ransomeware attacks, and paying for the damages of successful attacks. In 2016, 88% of ransomeware attacks were in the healthcare industry, making healthcare the primary target of such attacks. The efficacy of patient care, and patient safety, are both compromised when data remains unprotected. Healthcare IT professionals have to take many time-consuming and expensive measure to protect patient data.

Enter Akiri. Akiri is combines a private network and an open platform to securely share data. Only subscribers inside of the created network can share data within the network, ensure that data is protected. Akiri serves patients, providers, physicians, pharma, developers, and papers alike, preventing fraudulent uses of personal health information.

Interview with Akiri CEO Dave Watson

What was your inspiration for founding Akiri? What is your prior experience?

Dave Watson (DW): After spending more than 25 years in the healthcare and technology space, working for industry leaders such as Kaiser Permanente and Oracle, I saw first-hand that healthcare’s attempt at a digital revolution was stymied in part by the failure to provide for data interoperability. After nearly 20 years of effort, electronic health records (EHRs) deployment has resulted in a sprawling, disconnected patchwork of incomplete health information.  

As Kaiser Permanente Chief Technology Officer, my team delivered one of the largest clinical system deployments in history. While that was a signature event and led to significant improvement in the care of KP’s members, when I left in 2007 we still had over 2,000 discreet VPN connections augmented by various manual means of data “exchange.” Data standards were in their infancy and semantic interoperability was an enormous challenge. While the standards and technology are improving, they remain insufficient to resolve this key issue. We remain prisoners in this health data Tower of Babel, as a result of the lack of data compatibility and missing a ubiquitous network to simplify data exchange.

Dave Watson, CEO of Akiri.

Since leaving Kaiser Permanente, I’ve consistently encountered this persistent problem. As an analytics vendor, a tremendous amount of our engineering resource was devoted to data operations. As CEO of an HIE, the complexity and cost of aggregating and conforming millions of EHR fragments into longitudinal patient records was daunting and expensive. Healthcare has come a long way with the technical components but failed to understand and address the business issues around adoption of interoperability.  I’ve learned that our health data interoperability challenges are not caused primarily by technology, but it is instead an issue of adoption.

The American Medical Association (AMA) believes one of the biggest challenges in healthcare is securing, sharing, and using trusted health data. The leadership of Akiri agrees with the AMA and believe that now is the time for us to address the technical challenges AND the business impediments that prevent achieving data liquidity in healthcare.

How does Akiri work?

DW: Akiri is a cloud-based peer network designed to address today’s data liquidity challenges in healthcare. The Akiri platform is comprised of three major components: Akiri Switch uses software-defined network (SDN) technology to provide secure, manageable, auditable, and efficient connectivity among participating organizations. Second, Akiri Data Services uses Smart Contracts to govern the aggregation and transformation of data including semantic and structural translation to provide useable data to the recipient. Third, Akiri Certified Applications will be available in the future to address healthcare-specific business needs that require cross-enterprise coordination and data sharing that will be available via the Akiri network. Leveraging these components, Akiri connects trading partners and manages the HIPAA-compliant exchange of information.

How does Akiri compare to other data security platforms?

DW: Akiri is not primarily a data security platform, nor is it a health information exchange (with the many geographic and legislative constraints they suffer). Rather, think of Akiri like a financial funds network that enables frictionless, cost-effective movement of data among enterprises. Akiri takes a fresh approach to health data with a platform that addresses the mostly unmet issue of adoption by applying the interoperability lessons of the past. Our secure peer-to-peer network allows Akiri clients to control with whom they exchange data and addresses compliance concerns by authoritatively answering questions about what data has been sends and to whom. With Akiri, there is never a question about how your data is being used. Unlike others, Akiri never retains your data in the network.

Industries Impacted by data security breaches. Graphic courtesy of Premier Insurance.

What are the advantages of using the cloud to store health data?

DW: Akiri does not store customer data in the cloud but does leverage the cloud to provide flexible processing horsepower to ensure performance and availability of its network nodes and data services. These same characteristics of economic and flexible consumption are beneficial for other healthcare companies to leverage in their computing infrastructure.

In your opinion, how long is it going to take for the healthcare industry to fully implement cloud-based technology? How close are we now?

DW: Early and mid-adopters are already leveraging the benefits of the cloud. Others will take their time, and there is a cohort who mistrust cloud-based services typically due to their need to feel a sense of control. Use of the cloud will continue to expand as experience softens fears and new capabilities become available.

Causes of data security breaches in healthcare. Image courtesy of Data Privacy Monitor.

What is the cost of Akiri? How did you decide on this price point? How does it compare to your competitors?

DW: Akiri does not publicly disclose its pricing. That said, the Akiri model provides its customers flexibility to consume network and data services as they need, and to pay for those services incrementally. Generally, with our simplified tech stack and targeted services, Akiri can deliver similar capabilities for 25-50% less than comparable services from our competitors.

What feedback have you received on Akiri?

DW: Feedback from potential partners has been very positive surrounding Akiri’s fresh approach to data liquidity, specifically our component stack, pricing, and economic exchange model. Akiri has already landed its first two customers and interest from several sectors within healthcare.

What are your next 3 major milestones at Akiri?

DW: The next three major milestones for Akiri are: 1) Completing our current funding round and scaling operations; 2) Adding customers and network endpoints; and, 3) Expanding Akiri product capabilities.

What challenges have you encountered as a health-tech entrepreneur? How did you overcome these challenges?

DW: In today’s otherwise interconnected world, it is challenging to bring a product to market that has preconceived ideas of what interoperability “should be” – even though the past is mostly a story of failure. It is critical for customers to understand that the Akiri approach addresses the necessary dynamics that prevent adoption in this interconnected world. Introducing new concepts that require change to harvest the benefits is very difficult with competing priorities in the payer, physician, health system, and HIT vendor worlds. These challenges are only addressable by connecting with a suitably senior sponsor, addressing their business pain, and providing a distinct WIFM (what’s in it for me). Only then can you get traction.

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