HIStalk Interviews Carina Edwards, CEO, Quil

Recently, Carina Edwards, CEO of Quil, sat down with the healthcare technology industry blog, HIStalk to share the latest on market trends, consumer trends, and the future of healthcare. Over the past year, and counting, healthcare has seen some of the biggest shifts in care delivery and innovation we have seen in a long time. Carina and HIStalk covered connected health with home technology. Below are some excerpts and key highlights from the interview. Get the full interview on the HIStalk site here.

HIStalk: Tell me about yourself and the company.

Carina: I have spent more than 25 years in healthcare technology. I have dedicated my focus and career on delivering experiences that delight customers and drive value and success in digital health. It has been fun being the CEO from the inception of Quil.

Quil is a digital health joint venture between Comcast NBCUniversal and Independence Blue Cross. We help people organize and navigate their health lives in partnership with their providers, their health plans, and their loved ones. We have two solutions. Quil Engage is the care engagement platform that delivers intelligently individualized care journeys to support patients during every step of their care, prescribed by providers and sold to provider organizations. We now have Quil Assure, the connected home platform sold direct to consumer, that helps seniors enjoy greater independence with exercising their preference for aging in place and strengthening that support between the family and friends serving as caregivers.

HIStalk: Seniors say they will accept some kinds of caregiver monitoring technology, such as fall detection and movement tracking, but draw the line at being monitored constantly by audio or video. How does that affect the ways in which monitoring can be performed? 

Carina: In all of our research, we confirmed the same findings. We have 54 million unpaid caregivers in the country. There is a booming silver tsunami of seniors, and all of them want to live in their home as long as possible. When you start thinking about that dynamic, we need more technologies to help them live independently, but we need those technologies to be invisible to them. To support the caregiver, but also support the senior.

In our research, we focused on ambient sensing. We are leveraging some of the foundations that we know very well from the Comcast side of this joint venture, which is that connected home with motion sensors, door detectors, and connected hub. Being able to take machine learning and the bots that we’ve written to detect anomalies in daily patterns of living and notify on those anomalies. Then, also connect into the broader Internet of Things ecosystem that people have adopted across all ages.

With COVID, you are now seeing the 65-plus community being way more technology receptive. Being able to connect to their Apple Watch if they’re tech savvy. Being able to connect to their Alexa ecosystem for their weekly grocery orders. Having that open platform, but the importance being how the caregiver can verify that everything is OK. Did Mom get up on time? Are things going well? Has she been to the kitchen three times a day like normal? What going on that is abnormal? Did she leave the house for an extended period of time? All of those things to support the senior so that if they need help, it’s there.

HIStalk: How can technology address the key concerns of falls, wandering, and accidentally creating dangerous situations with normal household equipment such as stoves and bathtubs?

Carina: A lot of it is sleep quality, which is interesting. Are they getting around the house doing activities of daily living? Are they going to the kitchen? Are they not going to the kitchen? Are their bathroom patterns changing? In early trials, we’ve detected UTIs and other things because of just pattern anomalies. Temperature sensing is a huge one. We’ve had some seniors in the trial where they didn’t want to bother the caregiver, so when their heat went out, they just didn’t say anything. But then the system alerts when it’s turning to 55 in the room.

“Set it and forget it” ambient technologies don’t make them feel like they’re being watched. They’re not being actively probed. They don’t want to interact with the technology if they don’t have to. But then when it’s there, leveraging the pattern button, personal emergency response activation, or even if they’re connecting in the IoT ecosystem, “Hey Alexa, call Quil,” we can be there 24/7 to respond to those things. Sensors and triggers let us see certain patterns that would indicate a big abnormality, so we will start calling down the caregiver circle to make sure they’re checking in on Mom.

HIStalk: The old-school technology is to call the person daily to ask how they are doing and listen for anything concerning in their response or their voice. Do any technologies simulate that phone call type of monitoring?

Carina: We are doing insights in the app. The caregiver gets push notifications, text messages, and phone calls. They can see that Mom’s up and about and it looks like a great day. Those type of insights are coming back to the caregiver’s phone. The nice thing is if Mom is technically savvy, she also gets that same view. 

The interesting part is what we’ve learned from the caregivers. There’s this relationship that they are trying to form and it gets stressed when, every time you call, it’s about their health. There’s this fine balance between, “I know I’m aging and I know I have challenges, but don’t remind me of it all the time” and the caregivers saying, “I love being there for you, but it’s sometimes a little bit exhausting and I’m really worried that you’re not OK.” Bridging that relationship with insights that keep everybody on the same page — how things are going, any tasks and appointments coming up, medication reminders — and leveraging that technology to set those reminders so that Mom can acknowledge with their voice that they have taken that medication.

HIStalk: How does technology address those folks who are mobile and can run errands or visit a friend and the caregiver wants to make sure they get home when expected?

Carina: We detect when they leave the house, because then there’s no motion in the house and we have the door sensor. This is a learning system, so we learn their patterns over time. The caregiver can also set that they are on vacation or doing something abnormal. It isn’t sensing and triggering, but we are learning, “Looks like bridge club on Tuesdays, normal event. No worries, Mom comes back around 5:00 PM.” Those are the things that we are constantly fine tuning to make sure that we’re understanding the value that those insights provide. And respecting so that the senior in all of this knows what’s being shared, why it’s being shared, and how it’s helping with technology on their terms.

HIStalk: Big players like Best Buy and now Amazon, with Alexa Together, are involved in selling monitoring equipment and services directly to consumers. In Amazon’s case, it is powered by the same Echo devices that a competitor might use and is tied into third-party sensors such as fall detectors. How is the market evolving?

Carina: It’s the race to the connected home. I’m excited that we have a head start with Comcast. Then on the population basis, it’s that connectivity and receptivity of seniors to technology. As I mentioned earlier, I think that COVID has accelerated that comfort level with technology. I manage, or as I love to say, I love four people over 78 in my life. It’s hysterical that when I talk to them, if I’m not on FaceTime, there’s an issue – “Why aren’t you on FaceTime? I can’t see you.” Before the pandemic, that was never a thing. 

As we’re seeing this change in receptivity and now this race to the home, I’m also excited about the other side of our joint venture with Independence Blue Cross and the Medicare Advantage population. We see the joint venture through two very connected lenses. One being that we have “prescribed by provider” with Quil Engage. We have now the connected home. We are thinking about models of risk, pulling this all together to say, that’s what we mean by convergence with the home and health at home in a new way. 

It’s a really exciting time with lots of great players in this space. The question is, what level of depth in healthcare will each of the organizations go into? We’ve seen some early acquisitions that are indicators, but a lot more to come. I never dismiss Amazon ever, or Best Buy. Everyone is in this market.

HIStalk: Does the business model require running a 24/7 call center, or can companies provide just the technology without that escalation capability?

Carina: This goes back to what populations you’re serving for the level of escalation. We are looking at the market where safety protocols and emergency support are critical for a certain segment of the population. We think about this as a connected care circle, not just your daughter or your daughter’s husband, but even a neighbor just to check in. As we’re thinking about this, the setup and the onboarding process is critical to figure out and evolve with the senior and their patterns. Start with them. Call the house, “Hey mom, how’s it going? Everything OK?” I’m noticing some pattern detection. No answer, call the first person on the call tree, and then go down the list.

If we find something critical, we will absolutely send EMS, but we think about that person’s community and how they want to be escalated. We want to give them independence. With technology, we have so many different ways to turn on and off alerts and escalations based on their desire.

I worked at Philips years ago, and when we bought Lifeline, I got it for my grandmother. She was in an apartment building in Florida and had to do her laundry in the basement. She was taking a basket of towels down to the basement and she hit the button accidentally. EMS came and she was mortified, mortified. That button never went around her neck ever again – it sat in the basket by her bed. Unfortunately, she did have a fall in the house. Couldn’t get to the button. Thank goodness that she lives in the apartment building, because her neighbors checked in on her. It was her neighbor that found her three hours later.

We have learned so much about the sensitivity of the community, about what they want. Targeting their wishes. Do you want EMS to be initially protocoled or not?

HIStalk: The Echo devices have an option to connect with other devices in the neighborhood. Is there any movement to use that to create groups who can keep an eye on each other instead of going from zero to 60 in dispatching EMS?

Carina: We have that in the care circle pieces, where they can invite anybody they want, friends or family. They can designate who they are, what they can see, what they can’t see. You hit it spot on that there is a range between zero to 60, and the world of personalization matters to this generation. They want it on their terms. As we are fine tuning all of this, giving that control to the senior who could literally just turn off whoever they want, to turn off any time on their own device, because they’re seeing the same things that the care circle is seeing.

HIStalk: How do you contrast selling directly to consumers instead of to insurers or employers?

Carina: The fun part about this being a joint venture is that we get those great best practices from both parent organizations. Our direct to consumer approach was heavily influenced by best practices that Xfinity has done quite at scale with Comcast. Same with Independence. We’ve learned about routes to market for different populations and payers and self-insured employers and how they interact with companies. We’ve built models aligned with those best practices, and that’s allowing us the time to start this conversion piece and be different than some of the more traditionally funded companies. There’s always pros and cons for joint ventures, and this is one of the pros.

HIStalk: When you look at the entire market for remote patient monitoring and other work your company is involved with, how do you see the market evolving over the next few years?

Carina: The question that is so critical here is, what does convergence to the home actually look like? We keep on calling it the home like it’s a physical thing. I look at the home now in two different pieces, the digital home and the physical home, or homes plural in populations of different segments and demographics. 

As we start blurring these lines and we start seeing risk shift in different ways, this is where the models get really interesting. Whether it’s hospital  at home, in a risk-based sharing agreement with new signals from the home that are extended for this population as a benefit, wow, that’s an interesting model. If it’s, “I just had a health event, now the person that’s recovering is no longer steady and needs extra eyes,” there’s a referral model. Then there’s the direct to consumer model.

I dislike the word consumerism because really it does come down to, where is the risk, who’s the buyer, and what is the value being derived? How do you make sure you stay clear on that ROI to each of the parties? In a way, you start becoming this B2B to C2C connectivity arm that’s converging on the physical and digital home.