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Akido bridges communication gap between patients and hospitals

USC startup aims to improve health care by untangling software stumbling blocks that hinder innovation. The results stir tech industry buzz and attract angel investors

Akido protects patient privacy while serving as a digital translator of medical data. (Photo/Joshua Smith)

In the not-too-distant future, doctor house calls could make a comeback, albeit in digital form. Thanks to a USC-bred innovation debuting soon at Keck Hospital, physicians may one day be able to track your vital signs from afar — via Fitbit-style gadgets — and use the data to predict heart disease, diabetes and other ailments. On a wider scale, such data could pave the way to forecast flu outbreak locations and take steps to curtail the illness.

That’s the vision of a startup company called Akido Labs, the latest offspring of USC’s Health, Technology and Engineering program, better known as HTE@USC, an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Digital translation

Akido, a play on the Japanese martial art aikido, is a computer platform that aims to unleash the power of electronic health records and other medical data. It’s a digital translator of sorts, enabling various software programs to communicate and exchange data effortlessly, while safeguarding patient privacy.

The uses for Akido are boundless, said company co-founder Jared Goodner, a biomedical engineering Ph.D. student in HTE@USC’s inaugural class.

Consider the example of home blood pressure monitors. Right now, it’s ridiculously cumbersome to chart and compare a patient’s home readings against those taken at a hospital or doctor’s office, Goodner said. All the numbers would have to be manually recorded for analysis.

That’s because each hospital operates in its own software universe, preventing communication with home health devices, outside doctors and other hospitals. Akido bridges that communication gap. The result makes it dramatically easier for software developers to create and test new apps that could revolutionize medical care.

Joshua Lee, chief information officer for the Keck School of Medicine — which is adopting Akido across USC’s network of hospitals and clinics — envisions an app that would run a patient’s vital signs, symptoms, medications and demographic details through a “medical literature database” to help doctors formulate the best diagnosis and treatment plan for someone with those characteristics.

Akido could also be used to devise apps that set up personalized diet and exercise plans based on a patient’s medical history and Fitbit data feed.

Finding solutions

Akido Labs is an outgrowth of HTE@USC’s goal of identifying medical problems and building solutions. Not long after HTE launched in 2011, students flagged more than 200 health care headaches in need of a technological remedy. They developed software to attack two of the issues — operating room bottlenecks and patient unhappiness — before realizing there was a more pervasive obstacle.

Hospitals are notoriously slow when it comes to innovation, said Prashant Samant, another Akido co-founder. Because of bureaucratic red tape, HIPAA compliance issues and the lack of universal software platforms, the process of creating and updating new apps can drag on for well over a year, in contrast to just a few months or even weeks in other fields.

Faced with such hurdles, “the nation’s best tech entrepreneurs” are building photo-sharing apps instead of tackling health care problems, Samant said.

Akido promises to change that. If widely adopted, the interface will spur innovation that shrinks hospital costs and improves medical care, both on an individual and larger demographic basis, Samant said. It will be the health care equivalent of an app store, providing software inventors the tools they need to make creative use of medical data, he noted.

Seed funders

Given that potential, it’s no surprise the company recently won financial backing from Y Combinator, the startup seed fund that also nurtured Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit. In exchange for a 7 percent equity stake in Akido, Y Combinator kicked in $120,000 and provided a three-month advisory program, its standard arrangement with fledgling companies. Other investors have also jumped onboard.

Later this year, Akido officially goes live in USC hospitals and clinics, which piloted the program and hope it will bolster Keck Medicine of USC’s credentials as “a crucible of innovation,” Lee said.

Already, dozens of hospitals nationwide have expressed interest in the technology. The buzz of activity has prompted Goodner and Akido’s third co-founder, Google-engineer-turned-USC-med-student Hugh Gordon, to take a leave of absence from their studies.

It may be a long hiatus.

“If Akido succeeds across a majority of U.S. hospitals,” Samant said, “we’ll be one of the biggest health care companies ever.”

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