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AiThority Interview with Varun Ganapathi, PhD, Co-Founder and CTO at AKASA

Hi, please tell us about your role and the team/technology you handle at AKASA?

In my role as CTO, it’s my responsibility to make sure the company is constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with automation and to ensure our products always perform as promised. I also make sure we have the best AI and ML talent working on our unique approach and technology stack.  It’s also my job to challenge the team to think bigger and move faster so that the company continues to meet growing demand and exceeds our business goals.

We intentionally convened a team uniquely qualified to bring modern machine-learning solutions and some of the most advanced technologies to healthcare revenue cycle management — a team composed of experts in multiple, complementary disciplines. This unique blend of talent is exemplified by our founding team — Malinka Walaliyadde, Andy Atwal and Ben Beadle-Ryby along with myself — represent deep expertise across both technology and healthcare revenue cycle operations.

We’ve built this cross-functional skill set deep into the DNA of the company. We have technology experts from the top Silicon Valley technology powerhouses (places like Google and Facebook), many with graduate degrees in machine learning. We also have senior leaders from the frontlines of healthcare with decades of experience leading revenue cycle teams at some of the most prominent healthcare institutions in the US. And we have a deep bench of talent from the premier healthcare services firms like the Advisory Board, Optum and Triage Consulting. Only with this unique blend of talent could we develop an entirely new approach to automation that is purpose-built for healthcare revenue cycle management. AKASA’s unique expert-in-the-loop approach, Unified Automation™, combines modern machine learning with human judgment and subject matter expertise to deliver robust and resilient automation.

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What is AKASA and what are your current offerings and solutions?

At AKASA, we’ve developed a new approach we call Unified Automation. We evaluated modern automation approaches from some of the most complex domains in the world (such as self-driving cars), and we derived core principles — like the best ways to monitor existing workflows, learn from workflows at scale and quickly adapt to change. We then built proprietary technology from the ground up to apply these core principles to the unique challenges of healthcare revenue cycle management.

Our proprietary technologies utilize computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and other technology approaches. Below are a few highlights about our unique approach for automating full revenue cycle functions:

  • Our Unified Automation™ solution operates within a healthcare system’s existing electronic health record (EHR) and revenue cycle infrastructure to reduce errors and improve efficiencies.

  • AKASA’s models and algorithms have been trained on more than 178 million claims and remittances. We are also committed to publishing in peer-review journals and a paper on one of our algorithms was featured in a spotlight session during the Healthcare Systems, Population Health and the Role of Health-Tech Workshop during the International Conference of Machine Learning 2020 (ICML2020).

  • Unified Automation can be deployed entirely remotely and its proprietary expert-in-the-loop interface with AKASA’s team of revenue cycle specialists ensures exceptions and edge cases are resolved while the system learns in real-time from the actions they take.

  • With continuous machine-learning built-in, the need for costly or time-consuming upgrades and maintenance is eliminated.

AKASA’s unique expert-in-the-loop approach combines modern machine learning with human judgment and subject matter expertise to deliver robust and resilient automation. We were very thoughtful about designing each component of our solution to fit together perfectly. As a result, our vertically integrated solution includes every single component required for revenue cycle leaders to roll out a deeply comprehensive and advanced automation solution.

Tell us more about how AKASA was born? What are the core principles driving the company culture?

Together with my co-founders, we recognized that the problems and lack of technology innovation in the revenue cycle are a systemic and significant obstacle for every single organization operating in the US healthcare system. We tested our perspectives with a multitude of health systems, who validated our thinking, which ultimately led to the foundation for AKASA.

At AKASA, we have a number of values that drive our culture. First and foremost, we value doing what’s right over doing what’s easy. We are taking a very mindful approach to building a culture that is flexible, diverse and inclusive. Approximately half of our company worked remotely before the pandemic so we made the transition to sheltering in place quite smoothly as it wasn’t really a change in how we work for many of us. We have unlimited PTO and we believe employees at every level should have discretion over their own time. Remote work with flexible hours makes us an employer of choice for engineers as well as just about anyone. We have a couple of values that serve as a foundation for our approach to product development as well. In particular, we design from first principles and constantly look for ways to deliver outsized value while maintaining the highest of security and customer service standards. Finally, across the company, we commit to providing direct, frequent feedback and receiving that feedback through a lens of personal growth – because every day is an opportunity to learn, to do better, and to be better.

Tell us more about your latest funding round and how you plan to utilize it?

Our series B round was led by BOND, and Noah Knauf, general partner at BOND is joining our Board.The funding will enable the company to invest in high caliber talent across the organization. We are aggressively scaling our AI/ML and engineering teams in particular. The funding will also help us continue to accelerate delivery of products to customers and further invest in sales and marketing to expand market presence.

How would your customers and employees benefit from the funding round?

A big focus of how we’ll be investing the funding is on the talent and tools required to continue to deliver innovative products rapidly and in a manner that exceeds customer expectations. One of the best parts of working at an early stage company is the opportunity to inform and shape the company’s technology, products and culture – to be part of building something lasting. The funding will provide our employees with the tools and resources they need to help us build an iconic and enduring company.

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How do you see the modern Revenue Management Technology trends evolving through the AI era and pandemic lockdowns?

Shifting business dynamics driven by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 have intensified the need for automation as healthcare organizations face massive financial pressures while abruptly transitioning their teams to remote work. When a hold on elective procedures and other early restrictions were put in place to slow the spread of the virus, many organizations had to operate with reduced capacity, and facilitate new work-from-home arrangements. When demand returned, hospitals and health systems had to bring staff back on campus and pivot operations once again. These challenges have many providers shifting their perspective of automation tools for the revenue cycle from nice-to-haves to need-to-haves. Organizations with robust automation solutions in place to fortify their revenue cycle operations were better able to mitigate the impact of these disruptions on their staff and their bottom line.

Traditional approaches to deploying automation or other technology tools typically require consultants to shadow employees to document workflows and processes. The new work-from-home environment and social distancing requirements for staff working on site significantly limited the ability to shadow staff. As a result, revenue cycle leaders are able to move more quickly with technologies that can be deployed rapidly and remotely.

How does automation accelerate innovation in revenue management for healthcare companies? Which other industries benefit from the same technology stack?

The U.S. spent about $3.8 trillion on healthcare in 2019, or approximately $11,582 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A 2019 study published in JAMA estimates that administrative costs account for $266 billion of wasteful spending in healthcare annually. The complex and highly manual system of claim preparation and billing is a key driver of healthcare costs in the U.S.

AKASA’s Unified Automation technology is machine learning that accelerates cash collections and decreases the cost-to-collect on every dollar. This enables health systems to invest more in patient care and be better stewards of the healthcare dollar.

There are massive opportunities to apply our solution across healthcare broadly and our technology stack and approach is uniquely suited to any complex and highly dynamic industry.

What is the most exciting part about working in healthcare industry? What do you like the most about the technologies used to create and deliver best CX in the industry?

At AKASA we believe every dollar spent on healthcare matters because healthcare matters to everyone. Many of us have been surprised by a medical bill or received a bill that included erroneous charges at some point. Helping health systems improve the accuracy and efficiency of their revenue cycle operations is one of the best ways to protect everyone from those kinds of negative billing experiences.

Your prediction on the “future of revenue management strategies” – what kind of talent / skills are you looking to hire at AKASA?

It’s clear that automation for healthcare revenue cycle operations is here to stay. In fact, in a survey we commissioned, more than 66% of health systems say they are already using some form of automation in their revenue cycle operations. That said, we are just starting to see the potential of true machine learning to bring next-level automation to complex and highly dynamic industries such as healthcare revenue cycle management.

We are actively hiring across our organization and we have multiple roles open. You can see all of our open roles at:

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Tag a person from the industry whose answers you would like to read here:

I find the work of Daphne Koller (CEO Insitro), Andre Esteva (Salesforce), and Jesse Levinson (Amazon self-driving cars) particularly interesting to follow.

Thank you, Varun! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Varun Ganapathi, is Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of AKASA. Ganapathi holds a BS in physics, an MS in computer science, and a PhD in artificial intelligence, all from Stanford. Ganapathi has successfully started two previous AI companies, one of which was acquired by Google and the other was acquired by Udacity. Ganapathi is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.

At AKASA, we believe every dollar spent on healthcare matters because healthcare matters to everyone. The only Unified Automation™ company for healthcare, AKASA uses the same machine learning approaches that made driverless cars possible to provide health systems with a single solution for automating revenue cycle operations. AKASA’s unique expert-in-the-loop approach, Unified Automation™, combines modern machine-learning with human judgment and subject matter expertise to provide robust and resilient automation. Unified Automation™ adapts to the highly dynamic nature of revenue cycle operations and has been purpose-built for healthcare. AKASA enables health systems to decrease their cost to collect so they can invest more in patient care and be better stewards of the healthcare dollar. AKASA is based in the heart of Silicon Valley.

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