By Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH
Can you discuss your background and how you became interested in health and health technology?
Like many in this field, my interest came from a personal experience. Starting a few years ago, following a hospitalization, my grandmother required long-term in-home support: she needed help with meals, cleaning, and getting around. Overnight, my dad became a family caregiver. It took him weeks of frustrating conversations to convince her that she indeed needed help. That was followed by months of phone calls to agencies and medical offices to get Medicaid to cover a home health aide. He was physically and emotionally exhausted.
During this time, I was a Workforce Strategy & Analytics consultant at Mercer. I helped large employers make data-driven decision about their workforces as it relates to their pay, engagement, and productivity. One piece of data stuck out, which was that the stress caused by being a family caregiver costs employers $25 billion per year in lost productivity in the U.S. alone. But most employers were not helping family caregivers, so I decided to do something about it.
Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur, can you explain why or why not?
Yes, in a sense that ReverCare is both a for profit business and is aiming to make a positive impact on society. One of our main goals is to normalize the conversation around the difficulties of caring for an aging loved one. Over the last two decades, childcare assistance has become an often discussed and offered employer benefit. This collective movement towards supporting parents has allowed millions to balance fruitful careers alongside family. We hope to do the same for millions of Americans caring for their elderly parents.
How did your Startup Award from Cornell Tech mold/change ReverCare?
The Startup Awards transformed ReverCare from an academic exercise to a real-world business. The name recognition, credibility, and resources of that award have opened doors and allowed us to grow much faster.
What problem does ReverCare solve? Can you also discuss how it disrupts the senior-care sector.
The current market for elder care services is fragmented. Most of our competitors are taking a narrow focus and solving for one pressing problem. Often times, they do a good job! However, our user research has shown that fragmentation is one of the primary causes of stress among caring families; for every issue, they have to find a new solution. ReverCare is a central place that helps families navigate all the available options.
What has been the biggest roadblock in getting ReverCare off the ground and how did you overcome it?
Caring for an aging loved one is a deeply personal issue and requires a lot of trust. People tend to have low trust for a technology with no face. To overcome this, we are very open about sharing our personal experience. We also do not intend for our technology to completely replace the necessary human touch. ReverCare augments the reach and efficiency of trained elder care professionals such as geriatric social workers.
What advice would you give to a recent graduate who is interested in developing a health technology idea? How do they get started? Is a strong health background critical for the entrepreneur?
Before you invest time and resources into building a solution, talk to lots and lots of people. The root of the problem is not always what it seems. You usually need both quantitative research and anecdotal evidence to get the full picture.
Although I don’t think it’s essential to have a health background, it is important to surround yourself with people who do have it. The incentive structure for the different stakeholders (payers, practitioners, pharma) is tricky to understand without any prior background. I’m lucky that my co-founder has a Health Tech background and that we were able to assemble a network of domain experts to help us navigate the industry.
What do you believe to be the greatest challenges for healthcare? And the greatest opportunities? How do you think technology can help?
The health care system in the US is already very complicated. Each new solution, no matter how great and effective, usually adds to the complexity. But technology has an opportunity to help people navigate this complexity.
How do you see technology significantly impacting and improving the health of underserved individuals and communities?
I think technology can make the delivery of some health services more efficient and affordable. One of our goals with ReverCare is to bring to everyone services that historically have only been accessible to the well-off by making the provision of those services more efficient.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Listen to understand, not to respond. It is difficult to do, but worth it in both professional and personal setting.
Something you did that helped someone:
Gave someone courage to have a difficult conversation with their siblings about the future of their aging parents.
Something you learned from failure:
It is very difficult to change people’s behavior, even if it is good for them. Change can only come from deeply listening to your users and addressing their feelings along with their immediate needs.
Something you did that took courage:
Leaving my consulting job to pursue graduate school in a completely new field. And then turning down traditional jobs to build my own company from scratch.
Which of the following funding sources will offer the greatest opportunity for health tech funding in the coming year? Feel free to pick one or respond differently?
Depends on the business and the length of the expected research and development phase. Development in health tech can be very expensive and have very long cycles; the field needs funding from a variety of sources in order to reach its potential. We are particularly excited about venture capital and family office investment this year.
What do you anticipate will have the largest impact on health tech investments over the next few years? Feel free to pick one or respond differently?
Government has a massive role in our healthcare system, and the country is currently asking itself some fundamental questions about how healthcare should be provided. The result of those policy decisions will end up drastically shifting the landscape for health tech. For example, a recent expansion of Medicare Advantage to cover some non-medical services such has transportation to medical offices has expanded what companies consider when they think about benefits for families.
Which of the following technical innovations will have the greatest impact on health tech over the next few years? Feel free to pick one or respond differently?
Everything comes back to data. We in industry need to be thoughtful of what data we use to ensure we are solving the right problems (e.g. How do you measure stress?). No technology works without the right data foundation.