Chapel Hill tech start-up Keona Health raises $2.5 million

Apr. 20, 2014 @ 04:54 PM

A Chapel Hill-based technology start-up behind software designed to help take patient histories, triage patients, and save time for nurses and other staff has raised $2.5 million to accelerate the company’s growth.
Keona Health has developed software called Online Health Advice to allow patients to enter their health information online and to ask a question or communicate a health problem to doctor’s office staff. The program can categorize concerns based on urgency.
“Instead of patients having to wait one to four hours for someone medically trained to listen to (their) message, (they) can still get their history and their questions asked immediately,” said Stephen Dean, the co-founder and chief operating officer for the five-person company.
Dean said that currently, the software has an online component that walks patients through the process of inputting their health history information online and it also can prompt staff to take that information over the phone. Dean said they also hope to add a voice recognition service that will automatically take that information, as well.
The company is a spin-out of the University of North Carolina, Dean said, and gained traction with a $450,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health and an additional state funding. UNC-Chapel Hill was a partner in the grant, he said.
Javed Mostafa, a professor of information science at UNC-Chapel Hill, was a co-founder, according to a news release. Dean said the idea was sparked by a bad experience from the company’s CEO Oakkar Okkar, who co-founded the company while getting his master’s in clinical informatics at UNC. Dean said Oakkar is from Burma, where he ended up in the emergency room for a health problem that wasn’t acute. After hours of waiting, he ended up with a large bill.
“So he sat down and designed what a system would look like that could make it easier for health care professionals to get tailored advice to patients that’s not just WebMD, which give you a laundry list that scares you half the time, (but) real personalized advice from our own physician,” Dean said.
They started selling the product last August, he said. They have tailored the software for pediatric practices, for obstetrics and gynecology practices, for family practices and internal medicine. But he said they hope to increase the number of different types of practices the software can work with.
The company is based out of Launch Chapel Hill, a business accelerator program at 321 W. Rosemary St., which offers access to experts and mentors, broad networking opportunities, office space and the opportunity to work around other start-ups.