Health Tech: Robbie Felton On How Intus Care’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

An Interview With Luke Kervin

Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of Tebra
Authority Magazine

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Know the market that you serve — Our team actually took some time off during our studies at Brown University to work full-time in facilities learning as much as we could about the elderly care space. We visited home health organizations and PACE programs, we spoke with nursing homes, health plans and hospitals to learn as much as possible about the actual care being provided from a medical, clinical and financial perspective.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robbie Felton.

Robbie Felton was first inspired to improve care for the elderly as a child by observing his mother, a social worker, with vulnerable patients. He went on to study public health/pre-med at Brown University. Together with two of his peers, he started Intus Care to focus on geriatric digital health, which has already become a vital tool for PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) partners across the country to improve care quality and keep enrollees in a community setting, and is poised to provide significant benefits to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a small town with my parents, sister, and an adopted younger brother. I played sports actively and had a strong interest in leadership from a young age. Growing up, my mother was a geriatric social worker in Detroit, so I would go on home visits with her to see senior patients and I got well acquainted with the daily challenges seniors face and the supportive services they need to stay safe and comfortable. My mother worked her way up through a PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) program, eventually becoming an executive director. That is where I did 75–80% of my volunteering growing up. I was a pseudo volunteer coordinator, bringing students and my friends to the program through middle school and high school to spend time with the seniors, putting on events such as proms, Halloween parties, and other activities. We played games, as well as interviewed them and put their stories together. Those experiences were really defining for me and sparked my passion for creating better daily experiences for the elderly. I was an athlete and eventually played football at Brown University. But one thing that lasted even longer than my athletic career was my love for elderly patients.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Getting to present with my mother at a National PACE Association Conference in 2021 was a really interesting and special moment in my career. The fact that I grew up hearing her talk about improving elder care and then I was speaking side by side with her on how quality management data can be used to promote health equity was really a full-circle moment. That particular topic is really impactful and has been at the heart of driving my professional journey. Underserved and underrepresented populations — often the most vulnerable members of our society — can get more effective medical care and have improved outcomes by empowering their care providers with better data.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am most grateful for my father who instilled in me from an early age that I could do anything I set my mind to if I maintained focus, a solid work ethic, and persevering dedication. As I have worked my way through athletics, school, and now my career, I have held these principles closely. Additionally, he urged me to avoid complacency as a leader. I remember one experience in high school when I was attending the civic leadership camp Michigan Boys’ State held by the American Legion. Early at the camp, I was focusing more on hanging out with friends rather than learning about civic leadership. After a call from my father, I realized I should maximize the opportunity that I had been given and I should become actively involved at the camp. Within the following day, I was nominated and elected by my peers to be the Michigan Boys’ State Governor. Ultimately, that moment served as an awakening for me to consistently utilize opportunities to improve and grow as a leader.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Everything happens for a reason.” I’ve learned that you get put in situations because you are meant to make an impact. You are meant to make a change and have an effect on the world that’s positive. Whether you’re in a great situation or even a bad one, just know that it’s meant for you and driving you towards your purpose., Throughout my career there have been a lot of moments that felt serendipitous. I’ve frequently reconnected with people from my past — often people I knew growing up or who I met early in my academic career — but now I’m getting to know them in a professional capacity where we’re collaborating as peers for the shared purpose of improving the lives of geriatric patients.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Patience — Be patient in terms of your work. If you rush into decision making you won’t be thinking with clarity. Nothing is as urgent as you may assume. You should always stop and survey situations to understand the right choice to make and what the subsequent implications are. As long as you are comfortable with waiting and you know you’re on the right track, you will get where you need to go — it is very much a marathon, not a sprint. We spent over a year researching the elder care space before we tried to build Intus Care or raise money in the market. We worked with our potential customers, learning about their business, learning about Healthcare Tech and Healthcare IT. We realized the more time we took to continue to learn about this space, the better off we would be and the more impact we could actually make.
  2. Vision — By vision, I mean being able to see things that are abstract, especially in the face of people moving in the opposite direction or being contrarian to what people think might work. Starting out, people said we were too young to work in this space, there was no interest in this space, there were plenty of other companies doing this kind of work in hospitals, etc. But really none of those things were true and all those detractors early on are now realizing this is where we are meant to be and that we’re doing something truly innovative and very necessary. There is a lot for us to do in this space and we are at the exact right place at the right time.
  3. Interpersonal Communications — Being able to know and understand the people you work with, the people you work for and alongside, and understanding what motivates them and what disincentivizes them. For customers and employees, this means being able to communicate with them to continue down the path towards your mission, whether it is a shared mission or different missions. You must keep everyone aligned moving towards where your impact is and where your goals and incentives are optimized. In a startup, your first job is managing people and relationships, and then managing your product, fundraising and customers.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

Intus Care currently allows organizations to predict risk and quality of care, and track trends in their quality of care while being able to see it comprehensively across their patient population. We are converting organization’s full quality management care planning functionalities onto Intus Care. The entire process will be digital and paperless, automated through Intus Care as much as the customer wants with clinical, data and external input for informed decision making. It is going to be one workflow, seamless in a single place to improve quality of care, rather than just a recordkeeping system, which detracts from care because it is difficult and time consuming to use.

How do you think your technology can address this?

I think our technology addresses this by the fact that data in Healthcare data is very disparate. Intus Care starts by centralizing and aggregating data so organizations can see all of their data sources in a single place. We have custom data pipelines and APIs that we use to make this possible and we are also able to clean the data so it is accurate. We have a talented team of data engineers and data scientists as well as front-end developers who make the data and information we present elegant and seamless in a way that is digestible for providers to use and understand.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

In high school, there was a retired football coach from a local college who was a senior center patient that my best friend and I met through a PACE Program where my mother was working. We had a great conversation about football, building a rapport after several visits. He began to follow our high school football career, collected related news articles about it. At the end of the season, he shared a completed book he had made containing all the coverage of our games and subsequent successes. When we went off to college, he wrote us both letters and I still have that letter to this day. His letter focused on finding my purpose and discovering what impact I want to have on the world. Having this profound experience going into college had a tremendous impact on me.

How do you think this might change the world?

So many people have had bad experiences in the elderly care system. I frequently speak with people who share stories about their family members and how they connect with what Intus Care is doing to improve care quality. They appreciate that we are focused on this space at such a young age. I want there to be tools that exist that make sure that no one’s mother, father or grandparents are slipping through the cracks of the healthcare system, especially not in a long-term care setting or even in their home. Through my experience with PACE, I have seen how impactful good models of care can be through anecdotes from many people, but also how bad other forms of long-term care can be for people who are vulnerable and need quality care the most.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I don’t think the continued development of technology aimed at improving the care of vulnerable patients itself has a downside. People are already being mindful of privacy and taking steps to safeguard information, and they should continue to do that. But we do need to be intentional about removing biases in data and predictive data models that might be present. If models are churning themselves a lot of times, they can’t pick up on some of the biases in data collection or in the population or sample that the data is being derived from. We must make sure the principles we build on are equitable.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. Know the market that you serve — Our team actually took some time off during our studies at Brown University to work full-time in facilities learning as much as we could about the elderly care space. We visited home health organizations and PACE programs, we spoke with nursing homes, health plans and hospitals to learn as much as possible about the actual care being provided from a medical, clinical and financial perspective.
  2. Know where technology has gone wrong in the past — It’s important to understand where there are hang-ups, areas that need improvement or lead to inequitable care. A primary example of this for Intus Care is the delay in care for patients in desperate medical need by caregivers and providers because of shortcomings with electronic health records and other systems.
  3. Surround yourself with mission-driven teammates — One of the most important things we’ve built is a team of people who are personally invested in the work that we do and in the market we serve. We are a company and an organization that is building for a purpose to make a tangible impact, and we all believe in that mission.
  4. Well define your mission — What is it that you are actually building and where do you need to go? Focus on your mission and the area you are trying to impact. Intus Care’s mission is to empower geriatric care providers or elderly care providers through data to deliver more effective care to the elder adults that they serve. Everything we’ve built and our decision-making have been aligned with this mission. I think that is one of the most beautiful things about what we’re building.
  5. Well define the social impact you want to have — For example, if our social impact goal for the year is to reduce hospitalizations, we can tangibly track how many hospitalizations we are reducing in elderly patients. Staying focused on the social impact is very important to us and it is one of the things that has made us more successful. Stay focused on your social impact, having a North Star to guide you.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I think there are plenty of young people who can go and work at a large-scale tech company, but I think we need more young people to reshape the way we think about social impact. Working in the social impact space is more fulfilling and it is going to have a greater impact on the way we see the world in the future because you can build things that shape technology within a social impact lens. Working in elderly care doesn’t change the technological needs of what we are building. I urge young people to think about how they can not only build something that is going to be transformative to the digital landscape, but also the social landscape as well. It is an opportunity to do good in the world in multiple ways.

I want to add that, for young people aspiring to build a company, it is important to realize the role that leadership plays in achieving goals. A successful leader has to create a vision that can be understood by investors, partners, and teammates/peers. The leader has to possess the ability to find like-minded support and the set the overall vision that allows everyone to be constructively motivated to passionately create a product or service that is impactful.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I would love to meet Bill Gates. He has demonstrated two things for entrepreneurs that are greatly inspiring. The first is that age and experience are not defining factors in founding a software business with worldwide impact. His focus at a young age was creating cutting edge operating systems and our focus at Intus Care is creating people-centered digital transformation for elderly care. We would like to mirror the commitment of Microsoft to product and technological advancement. The second inspiration is that entrepreneurs should be committed to social impact outside of their business ventures. Bill Gates has become the world-leader in multi-vertical social impact and philanthropy, improving the lives of millions around the world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Robbie Felton | LinkedIn

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of Tebra
Authority Magazine

Luke Kervin is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Tebra