Photo Courtesy: Keona Health

CHAPEL HILL – We all try to avoid doctor visits as much as we can, but sometimes it’s urgent, and we need answers quickly.

UNC graduate Oakkar Oakkar developed an innovative software program, Keona Health, which he says will help you reach your doctor online. As part of our summer series on young entrepreneurs in Chapel Hill, Oakkar’s start-up is this week’s featured venture from the business incubator LaUNCh Chapel Hill.

“We actually help the practices to put down the phone so that they can actually focus on direct patient care. We provide the patient with an intelligent way to report the symptoms using the web and mobile. We extract the health history directly from their health record,” Oakkar says.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal featuring Keona Health, patients are phoning their doctors more than ever. Phone calls to physician practices have increased between 25 and 50 percent since 2008. Doctor’s offices and hospitals are struggling to manage the calls. 

This is where Keona Health comes in. The program offloads phone calls onto to the clinic’s website, tracking and organizing each inquiry, helping the patient report their question.

“What we have is something personalized, something very meaningful about you and your healthcare,” Oakkar says. “Every single encounter is reviewed by your own provider before they get back to you.”


Oakkar, 34, graduated from UNC in the spring with a Master’s in Clinical Informatics. Continuing his education, though, was not the only reason he came to Chapel Hill.

He was born in Burma and later moved to Hawaii. When he was 19, he moved to Honolulu to attend the University of Hawaii. Years later, he had the idea for Keona Health, which means God’s gracious gift in Hawaiian. He wanted to develop the start-up simultaneously while going back to school, so Oakkar applied to both UNC and Duke.

“Duke accepted me first, and then when I got interviewed at UNC, they were like, ‘Hey, you are an entrepreneur? If you come here, we will actually nourish your idea in developing your company. We can get you some funding from the National Institute of Health and then spin off a company from here.’”

After hearing what Carolina had to offer, he turned Duke down.

Oakkar then met with Javed Mostafa, the Director of the Carolina Health Informatics Program, who eventually played a vital role in kick-starting Keona Health. Mostafa spoke with Oakkar about Chancellor Thorp and his entrepreneurship initiatives at UNC.

“I was just so hooked. I was like, ‘Alright. Sign me up!’ And the next day, before I even started school, we founded a company.”

Chancellor Thorp put Oakkar in touch with his cousin Dr. John Thorp, Professor and Director of UNC Women’s Primary Healthcare, and Judith Cone, special assistant to the chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Keona Health then received $150,000 in funding from the NIH and since has received an additional $550,000 from other government grants and early-stage investors.

Current partners and customers include UNC Obstetrics and Tulane University. Oakkar says the company is also in talks with Columbia University Hospital and North Shore-LIJ.

He just partnered with Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, Inc., and the Keona Health app will be featured in the Allscripts app store. Oakkar says it could be a multi-million dollar opportunity.

“We have all these top-leading hospitals in the pipeline, so we are going to be in a different stage and a different stage of the company in a few months,” Oakkar says.

Oakkar says health care is moving into the digital age, and he is riding on top of the wave.