Written by Andrew Seale
Toronto’s Akira wasn’t born out of some grand vision to throw the entire Canadian health system out of balance. Sure, Akira-co-founder Dustin Walper, will tell you the way Canadians communicate with their doctors is drenched in bureaucracy and perhaps a bit antiquated, but the push to create the mobile health consultation platform came from a much simpler place: the Toronto entrepreneur’s incessant need to create.
“At a certain level you just kind of decide that (being an entrepreneur) is something you’re going to continue to do… it’s a career,” says Dustin.
Akira is a continuation of that drive; it just happens to be one that’s poised to disrupt the way Canadians seek care. Prior to launching the doctor-on-demand platform – which allows patients in Ontario to communicate with board-certified physicians remotely, using text or video on their mobile device – Dustin spent five years building Myplanet, a web and mobile development industry.
“We sold (web apps and mobile products) to Fortune 500 companies like Cisco and New Balance,” he explains. “And I built the business to 70 fully engaged employees and about $10 million in revenue in the five years I was involved.”
But a discussion with Dr. Shazeen Bandukwala, a close friend, family physician and eventual Akira co-founder, about the “passivity of the healthcare experience” in Canada left lingering questions surrounding how to update it. And for a problem-solver like Dustin it was tough to ignore.
“I left Myplanet March 31st and as of April 1st I was working on Akira,” he says. He and the Akira team had to start from scratch, which meant recruiting CTOs and selling them on the idea and convincing them that it was something that could actually work.
While doctors on the app aren’t ideal for emergency situations or chronic care illness, they can write prescriptions and make referrals to specialists. App-users can access their healthcare records, prescription information including frequency and dosage as well as other test results and notes on their health made by the doctor.
In keeping with the province’s strict privacy rules, patient data is encrypted and stored within Canada and only the patients, doctors and medical staff associated with the care are able to view the information. The startup signed up 2,000 people for 750 consultations during a beta run last spring.
“It’s a radical idea,” he says. “You can’t avoid politics in healthcare, especially in a system like ours.”
But that’s precisely why the startup decided to focus at home despite the size and attraction of the market south of the border.
“I didn’t see it working if it couldn’t work in Canada,” says Dustin.
Of course, Ontario is just the beginning.
“We want to be in every province as quickly as we can by next year, that’s our Canadian goal,” says Dustin. “But our goal, simply, is to make high quality healthcare accessible to everybody (through) mobile devices – whether its Sub-Saharan Africa or Beijing or Toronto or Europe – I think that mobile is really going to change the way people connect with these services.”