The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Oakkar Oakkar, founder and CEO of Keona Health, a healthcare software company based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Oakkar explained how healthcare providers can use Keona Health’s AI-powered platform and clinical insights to optimize patients’ experiences and discussed the evolution of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morgan Stevens: What led you to start Keona Health?
Oakkar Oakkar: I had noticed that communication between patients and doctors typically falls short in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. In medical practices, nurses and administrative staff invest a substantial amount of their time answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, and recording patient symptoms. When a patient calls with a medical query and requests an appointment, this often starts a back-and-forth process, with patients and staff struggling to find mutually convenient time slots. This often results in extended wait times for patients and hours of non-billable work.
I set out to create software that would empower patients to enter their symptoms online before reaching out to the doctor’s office. The goal was to establish a system capable of lessening waiting times for patients and, at the same time, optimizing the allocation of valuable hours for healthcare providers. Healthcare providers could then focus on more critical medical tasks. This software bridged the gap in communication between patients and healthcare professionals, significantly improving the overall experience for both.
At Keona Health, we want to bring technology to healthcare communications, creating a seamless, intuitive, and patient-centric system. Our tech is designed to ensure that patients can easily access the information and support they need while letting healthcare providers manage inquiries and patient needs more effectively. For me, starting Keona Health was about more than just launching a company; it was about initiating a change in health care. It was about building a future where healthcare communication isn’t the bottleneck to care it is today. This mission continues to drive me and the entire team at Keona Health every day.
Stevens: Can you explain the technology behind Keona Health’s CareDesk platform?
Oakkar: The CareDesk platform combines AI technology with clinical insights to create a CRM system that simplifies and streamlines patient access, scheduling, and triage in healthcare settings.
It integrates seamlessly with both electronic health records (EHR) and practice management (PM) systems, creating a cohesive workflow. Central to its functionality is a powerful workflow and rules engine. This engine is designed not only to improve care quality and operational efficiency but also to enable the platform to offer more intricate self-service options, reducing the administrative burden on healthcare providers and enhancing the overall patient experience.
As a CRM platform for healthcare, CareDesk needs to navigate the intricacies of clinical care. Healthcare is incredibly complicated and safety and privacy are major concerns. CareDesk is a cloud platform available online and certified for safety.
It is designed to transform clinical complexity into accurate simplicity. The CareDesk platform combines AI technology with clinical insights in several healthcare-specific applications including patient access, patient scheduling, and nurse triage.
CareDesk brings together patient and provider data with over 40 integrations into a simple interface. This helps teams work together, and improve revenue. Underneath the hood, this simplicity is made possible with a philosophy of standard modular flow that uses AI technology. Among the tools employed are a clinical rules engine, a sophisticated workflow engine, complex scheduling algorithms, and natural language symptom screeners, among others.
This not only empowers excellent staff service, but it enables self-service that is otherwise impossible. For example, some practices get well over 50 percent of appointments scheduled directly by patients online, reducing the administrative overhead and staffing needs for healthcare providers. The outcome is a methodically optimized patient experience driving forward the industry’s pursuit of excellence and trust between providers and patients.
Stevens: How has Keona Health evolved in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related telehealth flexibilities?
Oakkar: Like many other companies, Keona Health needed to make substantial changes to address the global health crisis. In response, we adapted our software to further enable and bolster telehealth delivery systems, which highlights the invaluable role that telehealth can play during a crisis. Our COVID-19 response demonstrated how enhancing communication within healthcare systems can yield positive outcomes. By embracing telehealth, we not only illustrated the potential for more efficient healthcare operations but also reinforced the notion that streamlined communication can lead to greater satisfaction among medical professionals and, ultimately, better care for patients.
As you might expect, during the pandemic, healthcare providers experienced an enormous increase in call volume. People needed more care than normal, and naturally, nobody wanted to go in person if they could avoid it. One of our clients, Assistance Services Group, reported an over 600 percent increase in call volume. Our flagship product, CareDesk, was able to help them manage this surge. Despite the spike in calls, the platform’s scalability and robustness helped the company adapt, demonstrating the system’s ability to handle high-pressure situations effectively.
We also worked on enhancing the remote work capabilities of the CareDesk platform, since the pandemic proved that was the direction that many practices would be going in. This adaptation was crucial in ensuring continuity of service while adhering to safety protocols. Our combination of productivity, clinical safety, and remote work functionality became a cornerstone in managing the first wave of COVID-19.
The CareDesk platform uses rules-based algorithms and AI-driven workflow to handle patient questions and triage them appropriately. This technology became increasingly useful as quick and accurate patient assessment was essential in the face of the health crisis. Recognizing the complexity of front-line call agents’ roles, we also equipped call centers with automated tools to handle patient inquiries, insurance information, and urgent medical issues more efficiently.
Additionally, we added intelligent scheduling and telemedicine features to the platform. These additions gave healthcare providers the ability to adapt to the increased need for remote healthcare services, allowing them to schedule appointments, create and conduct virtual visits, and change workflows in real-time.
Ultimately, it was a trial by fire, and of course, we all wished it had never happened. But it did prove our CareDesk platform can handle increased volumes of telehealth calls, facilitate remote work, improve safety and productivity, and integrate advanced features like AI-driven triage, telemedicine, and intelligent scheduling.
Stevens: What differentiates Keona Health from other healthcare CRMs?
Oakkar: First, Keona Health is the only solution in the market that allows you to book up to 55 percent of all your appointments by patients. How? You can literally have all your visit reasons available online to schedule by patients with 100 percent accuracy. Other solutions won’t let you do that. They would only let you schedule certain appointments and most of the time they have you call for all other appointments.
Second, Keona Health is the only solution in the market that allows you to handle double your call volume without increasing your call center staff. How? Based on the same algorithms you set up for patient self-scheduling, you can have a similar guided approach for your contact center agents and clinical staff. They can follow the algorithms and resolute calls with 100 percent accuracy.
Finally, Keona Health is the only holistic platform that harmonizes all patients’ interactions whether they are coming in from the web, apps, text, or call.
Stevens: How do you envision the future of patient-provider communication, and what role will Keona Health play in shaping that future?
Oakkar: Healthcare communication is part of a larger issue in U.S. healthcare: the squandering of time and resources. The U.S. spends more money on health care administration than any other country worldwide, constituting a substantial waste of time and resources. This misallocation of resources has a far-reaching impact, with physicians and healthcare professionals often bearing the brunt of an overburdened system. They find themselves stretched thin, compromising their ability to provide the quality of care that patients deserve, ultimately affecting the patients as well.
One vivid example is one doctor’s weekly ordeal. They spend hours writing letters to insurance companies disputing claims for life-saving treatments. It’s a stark reminder of the time and effort health care professionals expend on non-clinical, administrative tasks, which was never their primary aspiration when embarking on their careers.
The existing healthcare system fails to prioritize the needs and well-being of both providers and patients. It’s riddled with inefficiencies and bureaucratic red tape, perpetuated by various factors, including the undue influence of private equity in private practices and insurance companies that seem more concerned with paperwork than patient care.
The result is an environment in which healthcare professionals find themselves, like data-entry clerks, juggling spreadsheets and patient visits. This unfortunate reality underscores the urgent need for a reimagined healthcare system that places the interests of both providers and patients at its core, fostering a more efficient and patient-centered approach to healthcare delivery.
I hope Keona Health can play a role in allowing medical professionals to get back to doing what they actually trained for–taking the best care of patients possible. I envision the future of patient-provider communication as one where technology eliminates the burdensome administrative tasks that currently plague healthcare professionals.
At Keona Health, we understand these challenges. That’s precisely why our work is so crucial. We are committed to removing friction from the healthcare system. By doing so, we aim to free up healthcare providers to focus on what truly matters: patient care.
I don’t believe that any one technology can single-handedly fix the complexities and deep-rooted issues of the healthcare system, not even ours. These challenges are compounded by a lack of political will and problematic business practices. But I believe that we can still make a significant impact. If our technology can provide even a measure of relief, if it can make the day-to-day operations smoother for healthcare providers and more accessible for patients, then we are making a positive difference.
Ultimately, the aim of any company, particularly a startup like ours, should be to improve lives. It may sound grandiose, but if that’s not at the heart of what you do, what are you doing it for? At Keona Health, we are committed to doing just that by making life better for healthcare providers, so they can, in turn, make their patients’ lives better. We may not be able to overhaul the entire system, but we can certainly make it better, one step at a time.