Al BakerDon’t discount the elderly when it comes to designing health care technology solutions, says Reemo CEO Al Baker. The conventional wisdom may be that seniors and remote health don’t mix, but Baker’s company has proven otherwise in a pilot study involving their gesture control technology and Samsung smart watches. Marketers can learn from how Reemo designed use cases based on real life rather than just what the technology was capable of.

Show notes

Air Date: June 15, 2016
Guest: Al Baker, CEO, Reemo

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Full transcript

Jared Johnson: Hello, my friends and welcome again to the Health IT Marketer Podcast, the podcast that tells the story of innovation and health IT. I am your host Jared Johnson and I’m here to help you learn how to blur the line between digital marketing and digital health by focusing on connected health and patient experience. This is the first and only podcast dedicated to you, the health IT marketing community. Welcome aboard.

If you want to keep up with the trends, voices, and marketing tools involved in health IT and healthcare technology, you’re in the right place. Here are just some of the ways that you can engage with me on this podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, Podbean, or Stitcher radio. You can leave me a review on iTunes and you can tweet me @jaredpiano. That’s J-A-R-E-D-P-I-A-N-O. And tell me what you liked, tell me what you didn’t like, tell me what guests and topics you’d like to hear next. I’m all ears.

We are approaching a couple of milestones on this podcast. We are coming up on one year since launching the program, which means we are also nearing our 50th episode so, pretty cool. And we also want to welcome our new sponsor starting this week, Clarity Quest, marketing experts who speak fluent healthcare. Thanks to Clarity Quest for supporting this program.

All right, on with this week’s guest. So my guest this week is Al Baker. He’s the CEO of Reemo formerly known as Playtabase and I wanted to welcome Al to the program today. Al, how are you doing today?

Al Baker: Hey, I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Jared Johnson: I did mention formerly known as Playtabase. Do you want to give our listeners more background about that? They may know the name Playtabase and some know the name Reemo, but how are they connected?

Al Baker: Yeah. Well, they’re the same thing at the end of the day, but yeah, we started out as a company called Playtabase. We were playing with the concept of how does data and your space and how do you play around with those things. So that’s where we started. But then when we came up with the company product and solution, we came up with the name Reemo. We got a lot of great feedback on it so we decided to do business as Reemo hereafter.

Jared Johnson: Very good. You were hailing from the Twin Cities in Minnesota from Minneapolis you said. You mentioned you’re a baseball fan. So are you a Twins fan then or are you a transplant?

Al Baker: Oh, I’m a Twins fan. I was born and raised here in Minnesota so I love the Minnesota Twins.

Jared Johnson: Oh, fantastic. Right on.

Al Baker: They don’t seem to love me as much though. They haven’t been doing as well last couple years.

Jared Johnson: Hey, you’re talking to somebody who stuck with the Houston Astros for a long drought before they . . .

Al Baker: Hey, yeah, that’s a pretty long drought. You guys are getting some deserved talent now.

Jared Johnson: Yeah, it was a long drought and then I moved up to the Dallas area so I was actually a Rangers Fan. And now that they’re in the same division I kind of actually have a problem there. I had no problem when they were in different leagues and I could root for them both and I’m like, unless they both meet in the series, which would be my dream, and now I just don’t know what to do.

Al Baker: Yeah, that’s quite a conundrum.

Jared Johnson: Yeah, it really is. They really didn’t ask me before doing that. Before moving them to the AL so, anyway. Well, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit more about your background? Tell them where you are now and what you’re doing in your current role with Reemo.

Al Baker: Yeah, a brief bit about my background. I grew up in the hospitality industry. My family owns and operates restaurants and hotels in a small community in Minnesota. But I went to the University of Minnesota and got an economics degree.

During that time, I worked full-time for UnitedHealth Group as a corporate strategy analyst. So helping just identify targets for UnitedHealth Group and the executive staff there to identify areas of expenditures with the states and national on Medicare spending and just healthcare spending in general. So doing a lot of high-level consulting. Navigating at the corporate level the transition with the Affordable Care Act. So that was really my first and most in-depth exposure to healthcare.

And then growing from there, I went independent and worked in IT at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis as well as I eventually did quite a bit of independent consulting for federally qualified healthcare organizations locally here as well. Also, navigating that transition of the Affordable Care Act. So a lot of my experience is in that consulting business development strategy around healthcare at the corporate level.

And then, I’ve also worked in IT like I mentioned, as well as virtual reality. So I’ve got some background in marketing for emerging technologies. And currently what I do, I am the co-founder and CEO of Reemo. And I’m a non-technical founder so, I’m the guy who takes out the trash, I do all the recruiting, the fundraising, some business development along with my partner. As well as just a lot of the ins-and-outs of product direction at a high-level. So that’s my current role and I’m loving everyday of it.

Jared Johnson: That’s great and one of those things you mentioned was emerging technologies. Let’s get right into it. Let’s talk about a couple of those, about wearables and IoT in healthcare. I’m curious to what you think the current state is of wearables, and IoT in healthcare, and where’s the most promise, and where’s the most hype?

Al Baker: I think the hype and the promise are all coming to fruition. It’s which ones are going to hit first, in my opinion. I think wearables and the internet of healthcare things in general are definitely on the up. I think they’re in the early phases of really being impactful, which is why we’re focusing on it now and building for the future.

I think in the consumer markets, the internet of things have had some time to build some foundation, build some leadership, infrastructure, if you will, so that now in this B2B markets and in these other peripheral more traditional markets are now able to see how they can apply that infrastructure to driving health outcomes.

So I think just in terms of the buzz words or the high-level things, I think the intersection between devices and data is really, really, really interesting. Because with wearables and other FDA cleared devices that are becoming more connected, internet or Bluetooth or whatever it is, the intersection of those things and how do you aggregate populations of sensor inputs. But also just at the individual level, those sensor inputs that were never really available before in a way that could be digested or analyzed.

So that I am really excited about. I think it’s going to have a huge impact in the next five to 10 years. And we’re already starting to see it with some of our targets as to what they’d like to do with that. And another is, I think, interoperability. As EHRs are now through that path of health records going electronic and us having a good infrastructure there. Seeing how that then translates into how do we cross compare and correlate different data inputs, whether it’s sensors or health records or just transcripts. And how do we correlate some of the outcomes or some of the trends that we’re seeing with the existing data that’s available.

So at the payer level, I think that’s really exciting to be able to get into that, “Okay, how do we truly get into the preventative mindset?” We’ve got swaths of data on individuals and groups of individuals so, now how do we cross compare that and begin to prevent different disease outcomes that are really driving a lot of costs. So at a high-level, I think yeah, interoperability and the intersection between devices and the sensory inputs and data that comes with that, I think those are my two favorite areas right now that we’re seeing a lot of growth in. And I think it’s going to be really impactful in the next five to ten years.

Jared Johnson: Well, like I said, you have a unique perspective and one of those is the fact that you have a case study that’s pretty cool about wearables in an actual setting. And that was at a care center in Ohio. So this was a pilot study. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about this pilot study and what were the lessons learned because this was really a pretty cool case study that I think the industry can learn a lot from.

Al Baker: Yeah, so, we focused on a couple of big areas with our case studies with that case study in particular. So I mean the user experience for the end users, whether they’re the provider or the end use of themselves, is one big area that we’re targeting. But also, how do we apply these existing internet of things, platforms, into a long-term care organization. So operationalizing that.

So with the user experience, we wanted to come away or go into it with the mindset of, “Okay, how do we make a remote monitoring platform approachable for a certain demographic between the ages 62 to 80,” and test that. So how approachable can this be and how much adoption can we get and is there a new way of adoption that wasn’t available with past technologies, whether they’re fall detection pendants or passive monitoring systems that have been in the market for the last 10 to 20 years?

We’re an enterprise partner with Samsung so what we’ve been able to do is take their wearable devices, their Samsung Gear S2, which is a smartwatch that has multiple sensors in it primarily focusing on the motion sensors as well as the heart rate sensors, and then their home automation technology primarily focusing on the door sensors of passive motion sensors as well as the controls between lights, locks, and thermostats. So now we’ve got two disparate areas of sensory input all under the same platform. So what are the insights and what’s the information that we can gather there for the providers to begin to extrapolate value from?

So what we found with the user experience itself, to go back to that, is that seniors, surprisingly to most people, the big misnomer is that seniors are not ever going to use technology. They’re completely adverse to it, and that it’s a lost cause. So we’ve found that seniors do in fact like technology. They don’t necessarily like to be told to use technology without a lot of backing behind it. Pretty much any population can say, “Hey, go use this thing. You’ve got to buy into this.” You’re not going to get a lot of that same adoption that you would if you were designing something for them.

Because with this population, they’ve tended to be told to bend to technology and bend to these things when they’re really in a phase in their life when they don’t really need to. They’re much more value oriented. If you can solve one or two problems really well, that’s going to have a lot more value as opposed to maybe a more millennial market, which wants to see 20 or 30 different things done pretty well that they can dive into. So what we found is that by presenting a user interface that is the watch, it was actually surprisingly very approachable. This is the generation that grew up wearing watches.

I’m 25 so, as a millennial, so to speak, I am a part of the generation that just never really grew up needing to wear a watch. It was all my phone. You ask anyone under 50, probably, what time is it, they’re probably going to reach for their phone. Whereas this demographic is already wearing watches, are much more adept to that industrial design. So we found that that was just a good starting point.

This is a watch. This isn’t a big computer. This isn’t something that you’re going to have to completely learn an entirely new interface. It has two buttons on it, it has a screen that has very, not limited, but I could say controlled set of ways that you can really dig into it. And then on top of that some of the basic features that are available on the smartwatch like step tracking, heart rate, the quantified self, as well as the daily weather or the what’s my schedule for the day, now what are the reminders are coming up?

Some of those just very basic features that are available on there were very attractive to them. They said, “Oh, okay, this can replace a few of these things. It can be an addition to our current user experience that we’re used to with a watch.” So that we found was very, very useful.

We have a unique interface that we designed early on in our company and that’s a gesture control interface for individuals to be able to control devices in their home just by learning four different sets of motion based commands. So think of it like, you move your hand one way, it activates the system, and if you raise your palm up or down, they can turn on or off devices in their homes. And there’s a vibration as well as audio feedback to let them know what it is that they’re doing.

So particularly for people with limited mobility or who are at risk of falling, it’s been an important interface for them. And one that’s been designed with them in mind as opposed to someone who’s more able-bodied or visually inclined to be trying out. So those are some big pieces and then to go back to the how do we operationalize this internet of things platform into multiple homes? That’s been very interesting.

So what’s the setup process for some of these home automation platforms that need to be done beforehand, before it even gets to their home, to make sure that when this box of devices gets there, that the care staff knows what they need to do and they know what are the things that will be needed to be installed or configured at the time of installation. So that when they walk away, the user has the full confidence that this is going to work. This is my home automation setup now. And then it’s just running in the background and it’s going to work every single time when I want it to.

So those have been that the two big areas of learning for us and it’s been extremely well received. Our seniors have really enjoyed the interface and really, really enjoyed being a part of our pilots so, so much that we’ve had more grown than we expected.

So it has a network effect within these facilities. So when you get a smaller subset of a doctor’s, even within let’s say a 500 person campus, there is that network effect. People are playing cards, they’re going to lunch and dinner together. They’ll say, “Hey, I’m a part of this thing and it’s been really, really great. It can do this, this, and that. It can replace some of our existing systems long-term like the call for help buttons or the I’m awake in the morning buttons. But it can also tell time of all things or remind me of different events or things I need to do throughout the day.”

So we’ve had that in here in adoption that’s just been straight up word of mouth. So we’ve been very, very pleased with the results so far and we’re really looking forward to bringing it to new pilot sights in next six months, but also turning that into a full-scale commercialization throughout the end of 2016 and into 2017.

Jared Johnson: And do you have in front of you, in terms of how long the pilot was and how many patients were involved in it?

Al Baker: Yeah, it’s been pretty minimal. We kept it very, very clean. So we went from 3 to 10 users there. The option to grow up to 60 after May. So that’ll be our next phase of growth and then we’ll be focusing more locally in Minnesota with two other pilot facilities that’ll be kicking off in May as well that will be up to the 20, 60, to 100 user basis that’ll be in phased outgrowth. And that one’s been running for six months now in Ohio.

Jared Johnson: So yeah, long enough to know how to overcome, I guess, some barriers to adoption there, which would be my next question is, how do we overcome barriers to adoption for seniors for wearables and IoT and just digital health apps in general. You’re right, there is a lot of talk. There’s definitely a perception that why even bother?

Al Baker: Yeah, I think every other market around, most other markets that are requiring a large amount of adoption, tend to gravitate towards, “Okay, how is this going to provide value to every single person along the way?” And with remote monitoring, that has been one of those forgotten areas traditionally. It’s been much more around, “Hey strap this sensor around your neck and now this is going to be the thing that you wear when you need help,” and it has turned out to be more of an ostracizing user experience for the seniors.

It’s essentially that badge of okay I’m old and I’ve graduated into that next level of my life that is not necessarily a good one so, the adoption curve for that has not necessarily been very high. It’s been more out of just a necessity like, “Okay, I went into the hospital last week. I’m coming out. Now, okay, I think I’m ready to buy into something like this.” When how do we get in front of those initial hospitalizations before they happen or those health outcomes before they happen, with user experience that’s built for them on a daily basis to be value-added the day that they put it on, the day they engage with the platform.

And I think that’s the transition that we’re beginning to see is platforms that are actually designed for every person along the chain as opposed to just the people who are cutting the checks like a provider or maybe an adult child that says, “Hey mom, we’d feel better if you wore this thing around your neck.”

Jared Johnson: Yeah, that does. That makes a lot of sense and I think with more focus on that and the acknowledgement of pilot studies like this that say, “Look, there really is adoption here,” then we have the potential to truly bring digital health to really a population right now that can be considered neglected in a lot of ways. And all of this I would consider to be under patient engagement. I would consider that. I know there are still a lot of different definitions of what that means from different perspectives, but I would consider it patient engagement for sure. I’m wondering what you think are the keys to patient engagement?

Al Baker: Yeah, I think obviously you can’t bombard people with points of engagement, things like that, make it relevant to their lives. There are a lot of common denominators within these long-term care organizations. What’s good is that they tend to be much more of a community focus so if you build features into it that are much more community focused, you’re going to see a lot more engagement with that.

And also, I hate to go to the simplest answers every single time, but what’s the text size? What is the design elements that you put into it? How much time are you actually spending with these users themselves to build the features out that are actually going to be understood by the people that are engaging in these things?

In patient engagement, I think a lot of people gravitate towards, are people taking their medicine? Are they responding to different surveys perhaps? Or are they engaging socially in their organizations because that is a large indicator of their health. How social are they being and how much are they getting out of their home? How much are they going to the different events that are on their campuses?

Those are actually large indicators of how engaged they are and how healthy they are. Whereas with younger markets, it’s easy to oversee that. But especially with this market, once you graduate into that next level of care or just independent living and continued care living, it’s easy to overlook that.

So building in features that are engaging even in the lightest, most socially oriented ways, that’s where the beginnings of patient engagement really start. So we don’t necessarily consider ourselves that downstream or late stage patient engagement. It’s much more that upstream, early ways that people are engaging with even the lightest of care staff or family members that may be the ones that are the in-between caregiver for the meantime until they, for better or worse, have to be engaging with someone a bit more clinical like a nurse on a daily basis or a doctor more frequently.

Jared Johnson: All right, hey Al, I appreciate that and I really do think that it may seem like a simple answer, but that’s often where we need to think about it. Like I said, this is a new perspective and it helps people just realize yeah, we don’t need to count out seniors. And maybe if we do target them a little bit more and really learn behaviors that are causing the perception that we don’t need to spend time on them, that we really can come up with more solutions like this. So I’m grateful for your time today.

Al Baker: Thank you.

Jared Johnson: I do have time for our bonus question, which really doesn’t have anything to do with health IT or marketing, but it’s just a little bit of fun here. And it’s, if you could join a rock band or music artist for a day, who would that be?

Al Baker: One hundred percent, without a doubt, it would be Bob Dylan. And it’s more so just selfishly. I have always been a Bob Dylan fan and I love the way he can play with words and I think he’s still rocking. He’s still doing what he can at the age of, I think he’s almost 80 now. Yeah, he’s over 80 now so, I mean he’s without a doubt the guy that I would join for a day just to see his process. And my favorite quote from him is, “I was so much older then and I’m younger than that now.”

Jared Johnson: Yes, well, you’re actually the second one to say Bob Dylan to that question so, kind of nice. The classics are always classics.

Al Baker: Yeah, yeah.

Jared Johnson: Very good.

Al Baker: Well, hey, thank you for the time today man.

Jared Johnson: Yeah, thank you and in fact, if our listeners want to hear more about Reemo or just learn a little bit more about the things we’ve talked about today, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

Al Baker: Yes, they can see us on our website. It’s a pretty basic landing page where they can engage with us, see some of our blogs, and our insights that come up. That’s They can engage with us on Twitter @getreemo or with me personally. My handle is @albakermn

Jared Johnson: Right on. Well, thanks for your time today and hopefully we’ll get to talk to you again pretty soon.

Al Baker: All right. Well, thanks a lot Jared. It was fun talking.

Jared Johnson: Well, that wraps up the program for this week. Let me know what you thought. Send me a shout out @jaredpiano on Twitter. @jaredpiano J-A-R-E-D-P-I-A-N-O. You can also leave me a review and subscribe on iTunes, on Stitcher radio, or on Podbean. Ladies and gentlemen, remember it is up to us to tell the story of innovation and health IT, and remember to build your audience one gig at a time.

Until next time, I’m Jared Johnson and you’ve been listening to the Health IT Marketer Podcast. This program is sponsored by Clarity Quest, marketing experts who speak fluent healthcare. For a full archive of previous episodes, you can go to That’s Thanks again and I’ll talk to you again next time.