… we need to increase research funding for specific diseases. For example, there’s so little known about Alzheimer’s that it’s hard to treat the root cause, meaning we’re more reactive than proactive. By understanding more about each disease and condition, we’ll better serve patients.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Scott Kim. Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Neofect USA, a rehabilitation technology company. Scott was born with spinal bifida, so he understands the arduous process of rehabilitation. His prior experience in the gaming software industry — including GREE, Z2Live (now Activision Blizzard), and 505 Games — contributed to his ability to create the games and software for Neofect’s home-based and clinical solutions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Scott! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I met my business partner, Hoyoung Ban, in business school and quickly connected over our personal experiences with the healthcare system and rehabilitation. Hoyoung witnessed multiple family members suffer and pass away from strokes, and I was born with spina bifida, so after having major surgery on my back as a child, I spent tons of time in rehabilitation. This meant missing out on many of the fun things healthy children get to do in South Korea, like Taekwondo.
I was born in South Korea where we’re lucky enough to have a pretty great healthcare system. But after moving to the U.S. for college, I started to notice the gaps in the system — and that left me wondering where I could contribute. This country gave me a great education and friends, and I wanted to find a way to give back.
Fueled by our personal health stories, Hoyoung and I thought the intersection of technology and rehabilitation would be a perfect fit for our business venture. Healthcare is something everyone needs, and technology can expand patients’ access to treatment.
Having personally experienced just how tedious and boring rehabilitation could be, we wanted to create a solution that would engage patients and better encourage them on their road to recovery. By gamifying our healthcare solutions, we added a layer of fun that traditional rehabilitation often misses. Through everything we do, our mission is always to inspire hope.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since we started our operations in the U.S. in 2015, we’ve been blessed to meet thousands of inspiring patients who remind us of why we started Neofect in the first place.
Early on, we met with patients to see if they would be interested in gamified rehabilitation to determine if it was a viable idea. During the visit, we quickly realized that both patients and therapists were in need of more engaging ways for rehabilitation. We also spoke to patients who claimed they didn’t have much range of motion left, but we were surprised to see that they were able to move their fingers once they were given visual gaming tasks. It was a touching moment for the patients, families, the therapist, and our team.
Beyond the heart-warming patient examples, another interesting story about our company’s growth is our IPO process. It was challenging yet intriguing. We’ve grown so much in 10 years, and all the founding members had been thinking about becoming a public company, but only as a pure dream. Getting through the process made us feel exposed, and we quickly realized that outsiders have different views on healthcare technology in general; some people support its role and impact while others were more critical of its pitfalls and dangers. For better or for worse, we’re officially a public company in Korea, and can focus more on the business itself and our mission instead of fundraising.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are one of the few companies that create a holistic therapeutic experience. For patients with neurological conditions, we’re present throughout the entire care journey (from hospital to home), which many rehabilitation companies don’t offer. Patients recovering from stroke or living with ALS, MS, and other musculoskeletal disorders can use our solutions as they’re recovering in the hospital, and then continue to do so in outpatient physical therapy as well as at home after they’re discharged. Our home-based technologies allow patients to rehabilitate from the comfort of their own homes and still be monitored remotely by a physician.
Neofect is driven by customer feedback. Since most of our products implement gamification, we listen to our customers — both therapists and home-based patients. For example, the Smart Glove “Throw Darts” game, which encourages players to use their wrist, was suggested by a therapist. She used darts as part of her therapy program and requested we include it as a virtual game. According to the therapist, many patients would end up getting frustrated by their range of motion when they played darts in real life, especially in the beginning of their rehabilitation journey, but our game allowed patients to enjoy themselves while gradually increasing their wrist extension.
All of this was happening when we were just starting our operations in the U.S., so it became a great opportunity to learn about our local customers. Playing darts is more popular in western culture, and to this day, the dart game is one of our most popular games in the U.S.
Beyond the software, we try to improve our hardware based on customer feedback, though it’s a bit more challenging. We recently designed our Smart Board for Home NextGen — a VR-like upper limb rehabilitation solution that includes a tabletop board and a Bluetooth-connected screen — based on our users’ suggestions.
Most notably, patients expressed the original board was too large for their kitchen tables, so we reduced the physical footprint of the board to make it more convenient for patients to use at home without sacrificing range of motion. Patients also shared that the Smart Board handle was at times too challenging to hold onto during the games, so we designed an open arm rest that encouraged rehabilitation of the shoulder and upper arm without requiring gripping.
We’re constantly learning how we can make our solutions better for the people who use them most.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
We provide innovative technologies for rehabilitation both in a clinical setting and at home, all while providing measurable results. Neofect started with our flagship solution, the Smart Glove. It’s a Bluetooth-enabled glove that uses games to rehabilitate hands and forearms. The Smart Glove tracks and displays the user’s movements on a PC tablet. For example, games like “Squeeze the Orange” measure patients’ range of motion and repetition while encouraging them to beat their previous scores. It’s much more fun than squeezing a rubber ball 100 times a day.
Measuring capability is especially important because of neuroplasticity, which relies on the “use it or lose it” rule. Since the brain requires a high number of repetitions for it to relearn how to properly order any actions, patients must engage in very repetitive types of therapy to see improvements. Given the nature of this concept, many patients find it boring and tiring to work on their rehabilitation since there currently aren’t many ways to measure the details, such as their range of motion.
By sharing data and reports on the number of repetitions, how well the patient did in each game, and the progress they make over time, we’re giving patients concrete analysis of how well they’re doing, how far they’ve come, and where they can improve. This clears up any confusion and alleviates this pain point for stroke patients, their family members, and their therapists.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
First, I wish someone told me you’ll spend cash two to three times faster than you anticipate. In business there are always unexpected costs, so if you plan ahead and strongly consider a 20–30% extra buffer on your estimated future spending (especially for Research & Development), you’ll set yourself up for more success. In the early days, we frequently changed how the games would work (i.e. for finger closing games we contemplated which daily activities we wanted to use, and what seemed most attractive to users) and we spent much more time than we anticipated, meaning higher costs.
Second, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. There are a ton of regulations in the healthcare industry. Given the chance, we would still create our business again because our mind was set on helping people. However, we may have done things a little differently had we known how complicated healthcare can be. For example, we always knew the U.S. market would be important, but I wish we dug a little deeper on HIPAA compliance in early 2010’s. Understanding potential pitfalls and challenges will help you anticipate, strategically plan, and set more realistic goals.
Third, don’t spend as much time developing products and waiting for them to be perfect. Launch your products sooner and take advantage of opportunities that could help you advance your business — for example, customer feedback, which can help you work out the kinks. When we launched our first commercial version of Smart Glove, not many hospitals wanted it in South Korea, although we were still getting valuable feedback every time we demoed in front of therapists. We always walked away with something new to consider (i.e. games are too hard to understand, capturing metrics is critical) and I wonder if we would’ve gotten our product to market sooner had we spent less time perfecting some features that weren’t even popular among clinicians. At the end of the day, therapists and patients are the ones using the products and can give you feedback based on their needs.
Fourth, I wish I knew how much it costs as an employer to provide healthcare benefits in the U.S.! It’s ironic, as we’re a healthcare company. We know how important it is to provide good health coverage for our employees, but it’s those little things you don’t set out expending to find when you start a business.
Fifth, don’t compromise on people. We learned this lesson the hard way by hiring people that weren’t a fit for our organization. Many times our top talent took longer to come to the position (it was worth the wait!). While you may need to quickly fill a position, it doesn’t hurt to make sure both sides are sure it’s a long-term relationship.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
High cost is one of the top reasons: American healthcare is expensive. Since I grew up in Korea, I use their healthcare system as a benchmark. There, you’re fully insured when you’re born and pay little to nothing when you see a doctor. For example, I paid less than $10 for a visit for a dermatologist this summer when I was visiting Korea, and that was even out-of-pocket. Every citizen pays into healthcare, but you wouldn’t have to decide between buying groceries or going to the doctor in most cases.
Another reason as to why U.S. healthcare is rated so poorly is that it takes longer to see a doctor. I understand that for physicians to provide a better quality consultation and examination it often means limiting the number of patients seen, but ironically this may explain the pain point for the patients that could lead the U.S. healthcare system’s lower rank. My dermatologist visit in Korea was just a walk-in visit and it took me less than an hour to decide to see a doctor, research nearby offices, and have a conversation with the physician.
Finally, in my opinion, healthcare satisfaction might be lower for those who don’t have access to the system through employers. I’m grateful all my previous employers in the U.S. granted me access, but I’ve seen my friends and neighbors who were in different situations. I believe there are strong pros and cons in the way that employers support their employees’ healthcare, but this could explain the shocking result as it can’t please everyone.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
First, healthcare needs to be focused on health, rather than money. We got into this business to help people and improve the patient experience. We’re beginning to see a trend where we’re paying more attention to patient-focused metrics to measure the success or performance, and we want to play a role in helping that continue.
Second, I would love to see more people covered by health insurance. By basing insurance on your occupation, our current system leaves too many people out of receiving necessary care. In Korea, everyone has healthcare and many seem happier. In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter if you’re a plumber or a CEO.
Third, we should provide more advanced quality of home care. The U.S. is huge, and sometimes patients don’t have access to major healthcare facilities. That’s where remote care comes in. We’re already starting to see healthcare apps getting more popular and telehealth being less foreign compared to give years ago, which is a huge start. Also, ironically, many people who are in need of healthcare are those who find it hard to physically travel too far. I hope there will be more ways of being able to take care of people who are in need but are geographically restricted to their homes.
Fourth, we need to increase research funding for specific diseases. For example, there’s so little known about Alzheimer’s that it’s hard to treat the root cause, meaning we’re more reactive than proactive. By understanding more about each disease and condition, we’ll better serve patients.
Fifth, as a healthcare system, we have to continue to embrace technology. Machines won’t ever replace the quality of work done by human clinicians, but artificial intelligence may shorten the time for diagnosis and increase the accuracy of clinical work. If we lean in to the advantages technology provides — cost-effective, minimizes geographic limitations, etc. — more people will have access to the care they need. We create solutions for patients to use in their own homes, which allow them to receive care while avoiding the challenges associated with traveling to doctors appointments.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
The best thing companies, communities, and individuals can do is take action. It depends on what form that takes, but don’t just sit there and expect change to happen. There are many ways we can make our voices be heard. Share your opinions and see if there are more people who have experienced the issue.
Awareness is huge to overcome inefficiencies, which aren’t designed to intentionally make things worse. Companies can also use their weight to change policies, starting from recognizing what they can do for their employees. Furthermore, corporations could always find ways to get involved with communities that are in need of help.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
One of the best books I’ve read in recent memory is “American Sickness”. It provides a different perspective on healthcare as a business and how we can better care for patients. As an immigrant to the U.S., it also gave me a full rundown on how healthcare has evolved.
“My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” is great, too, because it explains what it’s like to experience a stroke. You’re humbled by how the patients feel and get a better understanding because it feels like you’re stepping into their shoes. This puts individual experience into perspective, which is important to keep in mind as the leader of a healthcare company.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn at @Neofect and on Instagram at @NeofectUSA. And feel free to personally connect with me on LinkedIn!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!