Data privacy startup Skyflow jumps into digital health passport market to help public spaces reopen

Data privacy startup Skyflow is entering the health care space to provide a way for people to go back to public spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic with a digital passport.

The company launched Skyflow for Healthcare, which consists of digital passports for COVID-19 and vaccination. Airlines, theme parks and government agencies can use the digital diagnostics and vaccination solution to verify if a person is safe from COVID-19 and ready to enter a public space. The technology could also be helpful for employees in gathering data on which employees have the disease while also respecting privacy, according to Skyflow cofounder and CEO Anshu Sharma.

The two-year-old startup says it designed a “privacy-first” digital passport. The solution resides in a data privacy cloud for device manufacturers and testing providers. Because Skyflow is in the cloud, there is only one copy of the data, according to Sharma.

It’s a turnkey solution and device manufacturers simply have to print QR codes to use it. A government-issued passport could include a QR code to verify data around COVID-19 testing results or vaccinations. When scanned, the QR code takes the user to a specific URL in a browser. Users can also access the QR in a mobile app. A transit system or government agency can scan the immunization passports. Skyflow offers a common standard for identity verification on its back end, Sharma said.

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Skyflow is working with a cruise line in Miami to enable digital passports to verify that staff on the ship have tested negative for COVID-19. Passengers can get tested on site or bring a digital passport that shows they have tested negative or that the person has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Skyflow recently won a design-a-thon from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its use of a cloud data platform to address the COVID crisis. It designed an application programming interface (API) that can capture, harmonize and share COVID data without violating patient privacy. The API conforms to the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) specification.

Rather than asking for a request for proposal (RFP) or setting up standards, HHS decided to hold a design-a-thon, or hackathon, Sharma said.

“HHS said, ‘Show us how you would solve this problem, and a bunch of companies showed up’,” Sharma said. “We were one of the winners, and now we look forward to actually getting this in production in multiple companies.”

Other companies and organizations are working on digital health passports to help reopen public spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayo Clinic is working with Safe Health Group to launch HealthCheck, an app for COVID-19 symptom tracking and testing that links consumers, clinicians and test distribution into one digital solution. 

RELATED: Microsoft, Epic, Mayo Clinic join effort to accelerate digital COVID-19 vaccine records

Several airlines have rolled out the CommonPass mobile app, created by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum, that enables travelers to share their COVID-19 test status across borders using a trusted framework.

IBM is working with Salesforce on a health pass app that aims to allow people to share their health credentials following test results, vaccinations and temperature checks. Big names in tech and healthcare including the Mayo Clinic, Cigna's Evernorth and Microsoft also have teamed up to create a digital COVID-19 vaccination passport.

Skyflow's "privacy-first" approach

Skyflow’s API platform lets companies perform analytics, run workflows and built applications that can handle sensitive data. In addition, Skyflow’s COVID-19 testing vault platform only takes a few days for customers to deploy, Sharma said.

The Skyflow vault features polymorphic encryption and de-identification.

“If you don't use the right cryptography technologies and distributed systems, you're going to end up taking years and years to solve a problem that can be solved in days and weeks,” Sharma said. “And that's basically the core of our message.”

RELATED: JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic set to roll out COVID-19 'health pass' app in December

Investors in Skyflow include former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and Jonathan Bush, the founder of AthenaHealth and current chairman of telehealth company Firefly Health. Bush is a cousin of former president George W. Bush and nephew of George H.W. Bush. The company has raised $25 million to date from investors, according to Crunchbase.

“COVID has accentuated the age-old Achilles’ heel of our healthcare system — lack of data sharing,” Jonathan Bush said in a statement. “Perhaps Skyflow’s patient-centric data privacy vault focused on testing and vaccination data will help catch us up. It’s certainly the right approach.”

A key security model behind the Skyflow technology is called zero-knowledge proof, a method of cryptography in which one party proves to another that they know a value without revealing the nature of the value.

Privacy has been a key hindrance in health care to interoperability, according to Sharma. If the United States does not move to a single provider or single payer, then it will require data privacy technology like that of Skyflow, he said.

“The thing that's been holding us back is frankly privacy,” Sharma said. “We think if we can solve for privacy, we can unlock a healthcare system without moving to a single provider.”