Heart-Monitoring Watch: 5 Questions With iBeat Founder Brian Boarini

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iBeat Watch

Most wearables improve or enhance our lives. They may help us to track chronic conditions or monitor our progress on the road to wellness. But what about saving our lives? More than 1,600 people suffer a cardiac arrest each day, and speedy care is crucial to saving lives.

iBeat comes with an ambitious vision to help combat death from cardiac arrest. Think of it as Life Alert 2.0. Not only are your heart rate and circulation being monitored, there’s a dispatch team at the ready to get you the help you need if you have a cardiac episode. It’s emergency assistance, potentially before even you know that you need it. This is essential for patients but also for caregivers—especially if loved ones live alone and have been diagnosed with a cardiac condition.

Not surprisingly, the team at iBeat includes former employees from Apple, Intel, Nest, Cisco, GoPro and Practice Fusion, all working to create the technology and initiatives that will ultimately save lives.

I met with Brian Boarini, one of the founders and current Director of Product at iBeat, to learn more about what makes iBeat unique and the company’s vision for future growth.

As value-based care becomes more and more important to the industry, bridging the gaps for patients is even more essential. Your session here at Health 2.0 covers this topic. Once the innovation is there, what are the challenges in connecting the dots?

Brian Boarini iBeat

Since we’re in the remote monitoring space, we’re definitely trying to close those gaps. iBeat is tracking heart rate, HRV and other physiological signs and then looking at them on a longitudinal basis. So rather than just asking about someone’s exercise routine or looking at his heart at that moment, we’re gathering 24/7 data, giving us a holistic view of the patient’s heart health.

The first challenge on the tech side is surfacing the relevant data to the providers and then also not burdening them with too much data. It’s all about drawing out the right insights. Doctors see hundreds of patients and make decisions quickly; we offer an R&D team that can use artificial intelligence tools to highlight specific points of interest in the data that might be actionable for a doctor.

On the business side, the challenge is surfacing the opportunity to the physicians—both the technology, what we offer, and what we provide to patients and unbundled reimbursements for remote care modeling, since this is new.

iBeat Watch

Are you thinking about iBeat as a brand or as a brand experience for HCPs? Or is it just a tech solution?

We’re actually at an inflection point now—60 days ago I would have said, “we’re totally agnostic to doctors.” Of course, we work with a variety of healthcare professionals in advisory and research capacities. But we weren’t laser-focused on “selling” to this audience. We actually have a lot of traction with life insurance channels. This makes sense—our watch is designed to keep people alive, and so for them there’s an obvious return on investment—one, the person lives, so you’re delaying payment payout, and two, you’re continuing to collect premiums from that person. It’s a perfect alignment between the customer, ourselves and life insurance partner. But the new unbundling of the codes creates a straightforward healthcare path for us, and we expect our HCP and health insurance audiences to grow.

As you know, the Apple Watch has just been cleared by the FDA for EKG and irregular rhythm notification functions. What’s different about iBeat, and considering the highly competitive landscape, how are you thinking about future innovations?

As you mentioned, there are other competitors beyond just the Apple Watch. AliveCore had its cardio band on the Apple Watch platform even earlier. The idea that Apple is providing the first DTC ECG at the wrist is not entirely true; however, the power of Apple’s marketing and brand will make it the first one that the general population is aware of.

I think a rising tide lifts all boats. Awareness means that people will be looking for a solution they may otherwise would not have. In fact, AliveCore mentioned that its sales doubled in the week since the Apple announcement, and I think Fitbit is experiencing a similar uptick.

Our core constituency is an older audience, so things like a simple UX and easy interface are crucial and our differentiating factors. We also have a long life on the battery, and you can charge the battery without removing it from the device. iBeat also works with cell only; Bluetooth and WiFi aren’t required, which is important for our target audience as a majority of folks over 70 do not have a smartphone. It’s about four in 10.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that we’re not just a monitoring device. We’re a monitoring device with a human at the other end. If our device delivers an alert, it requires a response, and there’s always dispatch personnel available to talk to the user, or family and friends—and we can intervene on their behalf.

You’ve gone through a few rounds of funding. Looking back, what do you wish you had known about the process beforehand?

We’ve raised about $12.5 million, but we are a hardware startup, which is cash-intensive. We needed a lot of funds for our R&D team. Our founder also started Practice Fusion, and I was there a long time before they raised that kind of money. I think we had upwards of 10,000 customers and 40 employees.

I think the lesson is to get ahead of the hardware and bring on in-house experts early. We have an excellent team of people who are ex-Apple, ex-GoPro, ex-Nest, and other successful hardware companies. But they joined us later in the process, after we’d already gone down the development path. Really understanding who your manufacturing partners are and what the components and the supply engine are that go into building the hardware, is crucial. I think if we started over, we’d hire in a different order.

iBeat Watch

Talk to me about partnerships and how they are driving growth for the brand.

Our most significant partnerships to date have been our life insurance partners. As I mentioned earlier, our incentives are perfectly aligned. For two of our partners in particular, Scor and TransAmerica, they are looking to be more than just “wealth tools” or finance vehicles for customers; they actually care about the health and wellness of their customers, so they’ve invested internally and through partnerships like ours.

We’re drawn to partners like this because, while we are based in heart rate tracking, we’d like to add activity tracking and gain additional insights. This way, we can offer behavioral feedback, like, “you’re getting 5,000 steps a day. If you get up to 8,000 steps, you’ll lower your risk of X.” It’s not just about keeping you alive to pay premiums; it’s about helping you be a healthier person. It’s also important because we find a lot of the caregivers are interacting with the product. They want to know that mom or dad is wearing it—and getting a benefit from it. What’s the value? Hopefully someone’s not having a cardiac incident frequently—tracking more daily activities demonstrates the ongoing value of wearing a product like this.

We also have a partnership with Dr. Oz, so there’s a huge consumer brand opportunity for us there. He’s our partner of the HeartHero, app which essentially alerts other people around me if I have an emergency. Maybe someone who knows CPR is closer than emergency services and can get to the person faster. It’s an augment to 911, but not a substitute for it.

When somebody calls 911, they dispatch an ambulance but it can take up to nine minutes for the paramedics to arrive. You have about three to five minutes if you have a cardiac arrest to get help, so we’re trying to get CPR and an AED defibrillator to the victim as soon as possible. As a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Oz is passionate about getting the general population trained on CPR. HeartHero also offers training and video tutorials about recognizing cardiac arrest and performing CPR. iBeat is almost white label when it comes to HeartHero—you don’t have to be wearing an iBeat to download this app and be a Good Samaritan. But we see initiatives like this as nothing but positive for society and for our brand. There’s organic growth that comes out of building a network like this.


Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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