Listen to Episode 03
We cover medical alert systems extensively on The Senior List® and today we are delighted to talk with Rob Flippo, CEO of MobileHelp. Rob gives us the background of medical alerts, talks about innovation in the market and what the future holds for the industry.
Plus, hear some of the ways that MobileHelp is saving lives each and every day! Thanks for visiting our website and be sure to join our community groups on Facebook.
Rob Flippo, CEO, Mobile Help
For the past 25 years, Mr. Rob Flippo has worked in both start-up environments as well as fortune 50 companies, holding executive roles at high-tech companies including his current position with MobileHelp, as well as Motorola, Emergin Incorporated, and Boca Research.
In his current role, he has been responsible for growing MobileHelp from two to more than 200 employees, with a current customer base of nearly 250,000. In his tenure as CEO, he also successfully negotiated the sale of the company to ABRY Partners in 2017.
Transcript of Episode 03 with Guest Rob Flippo
Heather: Welcome to Your Best Years Begin Here podcast. Brought to you by theseniorlist.com. Your Best Years focuses on bringing you interviews with experts and educators to live a fun, free and fulfilled life as a mature adult. I'm your host, Heather Havenwood. So let's have some fun and get started.
Heather: Hi everyone. My name is Heather Havenwood and welcome to The Senior List, Your Best Years Begin Here. I am super excited to have Rob Flippo here today. Hi Rob, are you there?
Rob: Hi Heather. I'm here. Thank you very much for having me.
Heather: Yay! I'm so excited that you're here today. I'll explain to you who Rob is for everyone. For the past 25 years Rob Flippo has worked both in start up environments as well as fortune 50 companies holding executive roles at high tech companies including his current position with MobileHelp as well as Motorola, Emergin Incorporated and Boca Research. In his current role he has been responsible for growing MobileHelp from two to more than two hundred employees with a current customer base of nearly 250,000 people. In his tenure as CEO, he has successfully negotiated the sale of the company of ARBY partners in 2017. So welcome Rob.
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Rob: Thank again. Thanks for having me.
Heather: Thank you so much. I appreciate you being here. As the CEO, let's just talk about this, you're the CEO of MobileHelp who has helped hundreds of thousands of people over the last 25 years. Oh no, I'm sorry. How long has the company been open?
Rob: The company's been around a little more than ten years now.
Heather: Awesome. Let's talk about MobileHelp and what exactly it is.
Rob: Yeah, so MobileHelp is a personal emergency response company. We build products that allow seniors to get help in the event of an emergency. We were the first company to offer a solution that allowed a senior to get help when they're out and about. So the help I've fallen and I can't get up type systems never worked outside of the home and we were the first ones to innovate that so people could actually leave their home with the same safety and peace of mind in the event of an emergency.
Heather: So what are the actual basics of the medical alert system? Meaning the basic system. Because you have many different technologies that we're going to talk about today and the future and the new things that are happening, but let's just get down to basics. What is the actual basics of the medical alert system?
Rob: Until MobileHelp came along ten years ago the only systems that were available were systems that plugged into your phone lines at home and you'd have a button and if you had an emergency it would use your phone line to connect you to a response center for help.
Rob: Our systems still include an in home component so that it's always plugged in and ready to go, but you also have a mobile component so when you leave the home you have the same kind of personal safety at home and away from home. It's as simple as pressing a button and an operator will talk to you using two way voice to determine what the issue is. It's kind of like your own personal OnStar system.
Heather: Oh I love that.
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Rob: Yeah. So ten years ago we were the first ones to say hey, we know people want to be active and out and about but things happen and accidents happen. We still wanted people to be safe so we introduced a mobile component ten years ago and it's been very, very successful.
Heather: So how have you seen the industry change in let's say the last five years?
Rob: As I said, when we first started there were no mobile components available. So we were innovators in that sense. Over the last five to ten years we've started to see more companies make sure that they have a mobile component because frankly it's necessary. We want people to be healthy. We want them to be active, but we still want them to be safe. By in large most of the good companies in this space have a mobile component. The trend on mobility is changing even more as we look into the future.
Heather: We're going to talk about that because I'm super excited. Something that I found really interesting when I was talking to you earlier was about one of your biggest challenges that MobileHelp has which is the demographic. I just found that really interesting. I know for myself my mom has passed away, but I was her caregiver during that time. Why don't you share with the audience what is the number one biggest challenge that you guys have as far as demographic and fires.
Rob: Sure. Our primary customer today, in terms of over 75% of our customer base, are females. A big part of that is that … and we see it … is that men don't think they need help. They're generally pretty stubborn. I'm the CEO of a company that builds and designs and manufactures these products and my dad who's in his eighties doesn't need one because he doesn't need help from anybody. That's been a challenge.
Rob: And as successful as the help I've fallen and can't get up advertising was in terms of people remembering it, it's also a horrible image. Nobody wants to be that person and feel like they're that frail that they can't really do anything. We've definitely struggled with that perception and particularly in the male demographic it's been quite a challenge.
Heather: I found that really interesting data and I completely understand that. I never thought of it, but it's true. I can just see … I know people and grandfathers and my dad, and they're just stubborn. You guys are just stubborn like that.
Heather: I was talking with Liz earlier yesterday when we were sharing and she said that her mom had to buy one for her father, but how she did it was “well I'll just wear it for you”. I was like “oh my gosh, that's so interesting”. Here's the wife of probably twenty five or thirty years saying honey, you need one and he's like no. And she's like “well then fine I'll wear it”. “I'll wear it around my neck.” But then what happens when she goes to the store or she's out with a walk with her friends or something like that? I just find it really interesting. What are y'all doing now in today's marketplace to maybe help with that perception and the image change.
Rob: We were at a consumer electronics show this year and we were able to announce a new product offering that we built in conjunction with Samsung that's really put the same kind of safety capabilities on a really modern wearable device. Now nobody even has to know that you're a customer of MobileHelp because you're wearing a Samsung gear s3 smartwatch that has a fully integrated cell phone and it's doing all the same things that you'd expect from a smart wearable in terms of activity tracking and monitoring your heart rate and other things. If you press a button, and the same way with our other products, you can get help two way voice from an operator. They know who you are. They know where you're located with GPS and can get you help wherever you're at. We are really excited that this product can finally start to change that perception. I don't have to feel like I'm wearing a medical device or I'm 100 years old and finally need a product like this.
Heather: Right. I completely understand that. What I find is interesting about that is how the future of that is going to change in the different verticals. With this particular new change in your company, you guys have discovered there's whole new different ways to use it in different places and different locations.
Rob: Yeah. The first and real obvious component of that is that there's a lot of people who aren't seniors who are very active and may be in places and situations where they might need help or they might not have their cell phone. I run a lot and don't always run with my cell phone because cell phones anymore have gotten really big so we can have nice large displays. I was running down here in south Florida heat one time and started to have issues from dehydration that I was very uncomfortable with. Happened to find a passerby who had a phone to call 911 so I could get help. I wear my MobileHelp smart now and I'm in my fifties. It's definitely opening up new markets for us and we're excited about that too.
Heather: I personally snow ski a lot and we sometimes go into places we're not supposed to go. You know those big signs that say don't go there? We're like, let's go there. There's things called beacons and what not that we sometimes wear and sometimes your cell phone gets wet or you can't reach it, but you can usually always reach your wrist and I would have loved to have had this device in so many different types of scenarios in the past. Can you describe to people what's the difference between calling 911 and then using your medic alert? Do they call 911? What's the difference?
Rob: With a medical alert system like ours it's what we call professionally monitored. When you have an emergency you talk to our operator first who know where you're located, they know who you are because of the device. The device has told them everything they need to know about you. Even if you can't talk we know who the user is and because we have GPS we know the location. 911 doesn't know those things. When you call on your cell phone you see these things on TV where the operator of 911 knows where you're at and can send help to your location. That's not true. They don't know where you're at and they won't dispatch help to a physical location without directions. If you're in a position where you can't speak, you can't get help at all. So being professionally monitored is a really important component for people to look for regardless of whose system they're buying. It really needs that to be safe.
Heather: That actually is very accurate. I think I'm going to just reiterate that. If you're on a cell phone and you're running somewhere, wherever, you're away from your home or even if you're in your home and you have your cell phone, 911 is not doing a GPS location ping on your phone. They're not doing that. They will ask you where are you. They'll ask you for an address. They'll ask you what are your surroundings. And if you're either not coherent enough to do that, that could be a big problem. So what you're saying's one of the biggest benefits and features of this device is that when you activate that feature, when you call in they automatically know who you are and where you're at. They're automatically pinging it. Is that correct? Called pinging GPS?
Rob: Absolutely. I'll tell you a good example. We have a customer who's in his twenties who's epileptic but he generally knows when his seizure's about to come on because there are some pre warning signs. He has used our system to get help and when the operators connect because it's part of his profile if they can't speak to him they know why. We've dispatched help to him on a number of occasions at locations away from his home and it was because we had that information and the ability to dispatch help to a specific location that saved him.
Heather: That is huge. I think that needs to be kind of a huge feature. I know for myself with my mom when she was still here with us, that was something that we could have used completely. She had a heart attack and her speech wasn't exactly perfect. So she can't always communicate everything at the time. That is a huge feature that's overlooked in a lot of the different devices and medical alert systems. I think it's interesting that you guys are spear heading to a whole new part of the industry.
Rob: The other thing on that same vein is that we have a portal on our website called MobileHelp connect where a care giver like yourself, if you haven't heard from mom all day you can actually ping the device yourself.
Rob: You could go locate the device and know where your mom's at and say oh, she's at the mall or someplace that's familiar where she should be or she's in a location where she maybe shouldn't be and has gone somewhere where you wouldn't expect her to be and you could take some action based on that.
Heather: That is a very … that's huge. I'm just thinking about last weekend we had an amber alert here in Texas, but it wasn't for a young child. It was for an elder. And they said this elder person and they described them and if you can just imagine losing someone you love no matter what age it is if they had a medical alert system on their wrist they could just ping them and go find them. That right there alone is huge. That's awesome. Are you guys going to different verticals as well? New channels outside of-
Rob: Yeah, so one of the things that started to become obvious was that a lot of the folks who have the most need for products like ours are also dealing with chronic medical conditions. CHF, COPD and other like diabetes, other issues. The idea of providing solutions for remote patient monitoring make a lot of sense for folks dealing with chronic conditions to try and improve health, maintain health and still have a safety component that's there when they need it. We actually built a health care division about a year and a half ago really to go after that market in a meaningful way for post discharge, readmission avoidance. So when you get out of the hospital, you had hip surgery and they really don't want you to have to come back to the hospital and there's frankly penalties for it now. Using technology to monitor weight, blood pressure and other things we can prevent that and keep health care costs down. We're excited about that as a new vertical as well.
Heather: Is that something that's going to be offered to patients to buy privately or is that going to be through Medicare, Medicaid? What are the different ways of cost and people can purchase?
Rob: It's actually going to be both. We offer it on a private pay basis called Mobile Vitals and you can pair Bluetooth devices with our in home base unit today and start to monitor your conditions which is great. And again, as a caregiver you'd be able to log in and see those biometrics. But more and more the reimbursement codes are starting to be developed around these kinds of technologies because there's a recognition that they are going to save costs for the entire healthcare system. We'll start to see reimbursement over time there.
Heather: So I just want to reiterate. People can go private pay of course. And then Medicare and Medicaid, are they starting to be able to have people pay through that? Is that what you mean by that? Could you explain that so people know what their options are?
Rob: Yeah. The codes right now for Medicare and Medicaid are actually being developed.
Heather: Oh, they're being developed now. Okay.
Rob: They really aren't in place today, but they are imminent.
Heather: They will be in the future. So let's talk about cost for a second because I'm looking at your site right now MobileHelp.com and what I see is there's a ton of different options and it might be a little overwhelming for you, the caregiver or someone who's looking to get it for themselves. What do you suggest? Where do people start?
Rob: I think our site does provide a lot of information. I think if you call us we have really great caring folks who can walk folks through the different options. There's really a couple questions that you have to answer first and it really will help steer you in the right direction. We have in home only systems for people who really aren't going to be venturing away from home. Actually it's not a big part of our customer base because most people have some level of activity even if it's just walking around the block or down the street. Once you've decided whether you need an in home only system or something that works in home or away from home you can start to easily pick a path for which product makes the most sense for you.
Heather: There's also a phone number that we have here for you guys which is 1-800-930-2208 and if you don't have time to write that down you can also go to theseniorlist.com/smart. That's theseniorlist.com/smart. It'll have that number as well. And that number again is 1-800-930-2208 where you can have a conversation with someone at MobileHelp to just find the best solution for you and your loved ones.
Heather: What I love is that you can … for myself because there's many years I was away from my mom. I was in a different state. I was traveling. I was working. I was dealing with life. I would have loved to have been able to one, see where she's at and b, be able to see where her vitals were. Not as a way to be crazy, just making sure mom's okay. It's more just making sure she's okay. I'm curious, do y'all have a feature … something I would have loved to have known is is she taking her medications. Have y'all looked at that at all as a future application to see how people are doing with their medications or logging in at one level?
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. Our in home based station also allows somebody to set up a medication schedule. If there's certain medications that you take on regular intervals, you go to our website. You would probably be set up by a caregiver, but the senior could certainly do it as well. You put that schedule in and when the times come for your medication the system actually starts … the lights flash, it tells you that it's a medication reminder and then you acknowledge that right on the unit inside the home. All of that data then flows into our MobileHelp connect portal and lets somebody like yourself monitor compliance through the acknowledgement of those reminders. That's available as well.
Heather: I would have loved to know that you guys existed about five years ago. I had no idea. We got the old school one that went right into the wall and she had to be home. There were so many times that she would fall when she's out walking the dog or she went to the store and she had nothing. She had to rely on other people around her or be able to go get to her phone. I have a question though on when people actually activate the medical alert does your system then call 911 or how does that get connected?
Rob: Yeah, it comes to our call center first so our trained operators assess the situation because there's a lot of times where you don't need 911. We'll have a customer say can you send Betty from next door? I fell and just need help getting up. People don't want an ambulance showing up at their house for that kind of a situation. As they work through the call they make a decision at some point whether they need to dispatch help and they can dispatch emergency assistance if needed.
Heather: Oh wow. Call Betty next door, that's awesome. Could she bring over some cookies too while she's at it? Okay great. What's the future then? What does the future look like for the medical alert system and what's next?
Rob: As I said this new wearable that we're launching is part of that transition away from medical looking devices. The next phase of that is a product that we're working on called MobileHelp touch which is an in home based unit that's built on a tablet platform. So rather than just being a box that you plug into the wall as you were describing, it's a tablet unit that you can set medication schedules, you can view your health data directly on the unit. You can send daily activities and you can send pictures. A lot more interactive services to the senior but with the core underlying ability to get help exactly the way our current systems work in the event of an emergency. We really believe that that's going to start to change the landscape as well.
Heather: Let me ask you a question about the wristwatch. You have a partnership with Samsung. Is this something that's going to be connected all into one certain watch or if someone already has a watch can they download the software?
Rob: The way it's developed right now to make it as usable and simple as possible the software is completely reloaded. So it's not like you're adding an app to a watch. It's actually complete reload of the software which we do here. So if you had one we could reprogram it essentially, but it wouldn't work exactly the same way. The off the shelf product really has too many applications in our opinion for our user base. It's preloaded with like forty apps. It's really kind of overwhelming. So we took the best, most important apps that we think are relevant to our customers and made a really simple easy to use device that can save your life.
Heather: Okay. That's certainly an important piece. This is a specific kind of watch that MobileHelp is partnering with Samsung that you can purchase through MobileHelp. A specific kind of watch. It's not an app. That's a very big distinction. We'll make sure people know that. This is just not an app. Because like you said it's completely different kind of watch. And you're right, when you get any kind of system phone, iPhone, iPad or what not, any kind of tablet you're overwhelmed with a lot of different apps. And I find that really interesting that you guys are actually doing a full on partnership then with Samsung.
Rob: Along that same line I think you can imagine a device with lots of apps and then the need to go find the app and press the button. That's too many steps. With our solution you press one button that's visible even when the apps aren't up and you can get help and that's as simple as it needs to be in our opinion.
Heather: I completely agree with you. You don't want to have to go through an app when you're in any kind of critical situation. Just punch an app and you're … punch a button. Like OnStar. OnStar really is you just push one button. That's it. No matter what situation you're in.
Rob: Yep. That's exactly it.
Heather: I love this. Thank you. I appreciate so much. I just want to make sure everyone knows where this interview's going to be. You can go to theseniorlist.com/smart and Rob do you have any last words that you want to say?
Rob: Yeah. One of the things that we've been talking about with this new wearable is for people to stay safe out there and we really believe that. We save a lot of people's lives every day, every week, every month. We want to be able to do that for more people. Everybody stay safe out there and call us if you're interested in our help.
Heather: Absolutely. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for all the people your company's basically saving every single day, every single hour and every single year. We really appreciate it. And go ahead and call MobileHelp at 1-800-930-2208. That's 1-800-930-2208 or go to theseniorlist.com/smart. Again this is Heather Havenwood. Welcome to The Senior List Your Best Years Begin Here.
Heather: Thank you for listening to Your Best Years Begin Here podcast brought to you by theseniorlist.com. I'm your host Heather Havenwood. Please visit our website at theseniorlist.com and join many of our community groups on Facebook. Here at The Senior List we want to hear from you. Do you have a recommendation or a person or a company you want us to interview? Tell us. Email us at email@example.com. Again that's firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time one goal, one passion, helping you live your best life.