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Charleston health care startup PokitDok lands $5 million investment from life insurance company

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Ted Tanner

Ted Tanner is chief technology officer at PokitDok. Provided

A Charleston health care startup says it's secured an investment from one of the nation's biggest insurers as it makes a bid to reshape the future of medical records.

PokitDok said Thursday it had pulled down capital from New York-based Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, a deal intended to boost the company's new system for managing patient records.

In a securities disclosure filed late last month, the company said it had raised $5 million with plans to raise $2.5 million more. PokitDok says it expects some of its existing investors to join the round.

PokitDok was already one of the Lowcountry's best-capitalized technology startups after closing a $34 million round of investments in 2015. The company - which is headquartered in Silicon Valley but has most of its employees in Charleston - has raised a total of $48 million since it was founded in 2011.

The startup's work is largely technical - it essentially creates a link between health care computer systems - but it's potentially lucrative.

Its latest product, dubbed "DokChain," aims to bring blockchain technology to medical records. The idea is to move away from a system where documents are scattered between offices and create one continuous log of a patient's history that's encrypted and secured from changes.

Ted Tanner, the company's Charleston-based chief technology officer, says that system was first rolled out in the fall, but the new investment is intended to help grow it. Tanner says he expects companies like health systems and insurers to start testing it later this year, and he envisions giving people the ability to see their records in one place.

"It shouldn't take six months for you to get information from your insurance company. It shouldn't take three months for a claim to be cleared," Tanner said. "We want health tech as fluid as you signing onto Facebook."

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The company says the new funding is also meant to grow PokitDok's existing business, a system that links existing health care software and handles things like scheduling appointments and processing payments.

The deal with Guardian Life's investment arm is something of a coup for the startup, giving it a direct line to a Fortune 500 insurance company. In return, Guardian Life will have a hand in shaping PokitDok's efforts to build a new foundation for medical records.

"PokitDok’s technology approach and vision have the potential to make the health care experience easier for patients and more efficient overall, which would lead to a positive impact on the health care economy," Guardian Life senior vice president Bob Thompson said in a statement.

The idea of using blockchain in health care is a relatively novel idea, and the technology itself is fairly new itself. It's mostly been associated with the cryptocurrency bitcoin, which it powers by creating a secure, unchangeable ledger of transactions. For the same reason, the financial sector has recently gotten interested, too.

But PokitDok is quickly getting company in chasing its potential to track everything from lab tests to prescriptions.

The federal government held a competition last year to drum up ideas for ways to apply the technology to health care, and on Thursday, Google's subsidiary DeepMind said it was working on a similar system for patient records.

For its part, PokitDok says it's doubled its staffing since the end of 2015, with about 75 employees by the end of last year. It's also hiring for a handful of positions at its Calhoun Street office.

"Our emphasis on scaling is here in Charleston," Tanner said.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703 or on Twitter @thadmoore.

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