It takes a digital village to keep providers connected with each other and with emerging tech that can help them provide better care. Jennifer Armstrong, VP of Marketing at Stratus, joins the program to share the story of EEG U, Stratus’ online provider community that is moving their growth goals forward without breaking the bank. In this episode, you’ll learn how CE programs are evolving, why health tech companies don’t need new platforms to provide high value to clinicians, and how you don’t have to be the largest device company on the block to have maximum impact.
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Announcer: It’s time to think differently about healthcare but how do we keep up? the days of yesterday’s medicine are long gone, and we’re left trying to figure out where to go from here. With all the talk about politics and technology, it can be easy to forget that healthcare is still all about humans. And many of those humans have unbelievable stories to tell.
Here, we leave the policy debates to the other guys and focus instead on the people and ideas that are changing the way we address our health. It’s time to navigate the new landscape of healthcare together, and here are some amazing stories along the way. Ready for a breath of fresh air? It’s time for your paradigm shift.
Michael: Welcome to the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare” and thank you for listening. I’m Michael Roberts here today with my co-hosts, Scott Zeitzer and Jared Johnson. On today’s episode, we’re speaking with Jennifer Armstrong, the VP of marketing for Stratus, a leading provider of EEG and other neurodiagnostics. Jennifer, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Jennifer: Thanks, Michael. I appreciate you having me here.
Michael: Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s start off with a two-minute origin story for Stratus. What is it? Where did it come from?
Jennifer: So, as you said, Stratus is the nation’s leading provider of in-home video EEG services as well as other neurodiagnostic testing. These tests are all to help neurologists and other specialists in the neurology field to diagnose and guide treatment decisions for patients that have seizures and other seizure-like disorders.
The company started in 2006 as a sleep lab, and then quickly followed and shifted into home sleep testing so that the tests were actually delivered in the comfort of a patient’s own home and not necessarily having to bring somebody into a laboratory to understand their sleep patterns, which by nature disrupts them.
The success of that company then led the shift and the add of in-home video EEG testing to the offering back in 2012. And this was really driven by three things. the first was the company’s, you know, founding principles, and vision, and commitment to bring in high-quality neurodiagnostic testing, the type that typically you would only get in the setting of an academic medical center or a major hospital, bringing that test to the patient.
So instead of making the patient always go to a location where the test was available, the vision was to bring that test into the patient’s home and giving the patient the opportunity to have high-quality testing regardless of where they live. So if they lived in a rural setting and didn’t have easy access to a metropolitan area, they would still have access to that care.
It was also driven by the fact tying into the patient having to travel is this country still has, and even back then, a dramatic shortage of neurologists to care for patients. And with that being said, many patients that live outside of a major metropolitan area did not have access, still don’t have access to getting the testing and the care that they need.
And then the third thing that really drove it was advancements in technology that enabled the transfer of data and capture of data along with high-speed internet services to all be facilitated. So it was the combination of these three things that really led to this testing of providing and these are long-term EEG tests, so these are EEG tests that a person typically has that will last anywhere from 2 to 5 days because they’re looking for a condition that doesn’t necessarily happen, you know, day in and day out.
And then the company has been very successful. Over those years, we’ve managed testing for over 60,000 patients in that time, and in 2018, we further expanded our commitment to our vision of leading the way forward in neurodiagnostic testing by purchasing a software company that then enables us to continue to develop software that allows us to provide the high-quality type of data that neurologists need to make an accurate diagnosis of patients.
And then also at that point in time, we invested in an R&D company or division that is focused on a dream of applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to EEG testing and neurodiagnostics in order to help make sure that people, no matter where they live, have access to this high-quality care and diagnostics. And the vision of our medical director that leads that division actually says imagine a young boy that lives in the Congo in Africa, has virtually no access to medical care but is experiencing some type of seizure where we could actually ship into that person an EEG headset like a helmet that they could put on their head, they could run it off of a battery via a cellphone Wi-Fi connection and project that data to a physician here in the United States that could then give that person the test and help guide their physician on what to do next. So, it’s an exciting space but really centers around, you know, access to care for people.
Scott: That’s amazing.
Michael: You know, one of the things that my family’s had to deal with is, you know, driving all the way from New Orleans to Houston, which just felt like, you know, so far and everything, and you’re talking about, you know, halfway around the world between America and the Congo, so obviously a little difference of scale there.
Jennifer: I was going to say, Michael, that’s a perfect example though of what we’re talking about because some of these specialty tests and care are just… We think that with all the technology, they should be available, but a lot of times these advanced tests only exist in large cities, sometimes in just specialized pockets of the country.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. We went to see a specialist that was there. And so that same kind of deal. All of that could have taken place probably remotely; it’s just the systems weren’t in place to do so, so away we went, you know? And I hopped in the car and made our trip there.
You know, one of the things that we have talked quite a bit on this show has been around this whole concept of patient access. You know, everything from telehealth to things like that and just how dramatic a change, you know, this past year has brought for so many separate reasons. I imagine that Stratus is even more and more in-demand as getting patients in the different places is as problematic as it’s become.
Jennifer: It has been. We say here that we are blessed unfortunately by the tragedy of a lot of people, which is once again not something that any of us take pleasure in. But to your point is we really have served a very important niche and service while this whole pandemic has been going on because many of the epilepsy monitoring units, which is the place in a hospital where these patients are typically tested, have had to shut their doors in order to provide care for, one, COVID patient or, two, patients that have a more critical life and death urgent need.
So a lot of these patients, particularly patients that have new symptoms and are waiting for a diagnosis are waiting, you know, upwards of six months to get their testing made available. So we’ve actually come in and provided add-on services to a number of these hospitals so that they can continue to offer service to their patients while they are dealing with this, you know, bed shortage at this time.
Michael: Mm-hmm. It’s frustrating that it takes such a major event like this to bring about such rapid change but that is one of the silver linings out of this that we are getting to see this kind of growth.
Jennifer: Absolutely, allowing some of the technologies now to allow for all of us to have telehealth visits. There were too many protection things that were in place before that were blocking the access to that.
Michael: You know, one of the things that we try to talk about quite a bit is how medical device companies interact with their providers, how they really need to be able to rely on those relationships in a pretty substantial way. How has Stratus had to adapt in order to develop relationships during all of this?
Jennifer: Obviously, our access has been extremely limited during the pandemic. Many physicians are still conducting business via telehealth only. Others, while they may be opening their offices to their patients, they’re still limiting, you know, visitors per se coming in. That device are our service’s, you know, representatives as well, too.
So it’s really focused us from both a marketing and a sales perspective to take more advantage of technology to continue to build these relationships and nurture. One of the things we’ve done is many times the representatives will go in and sponsor a lunch and learn type of opportunity, and as I said, they’re not necessarily willing to let the office or let our folks into the office but what we’ve done is we’re setting now those lunch and learns up via Zoom. So we may order in the meal still to provide, you know, so the office staff gets to eat, doesn’t miss their lunch hour. In the same point in time, you know, we’ll broadcast in our representative to be able to still have that one-on-one conversation with the office staff, uncover what their needs are, where we may be able to help them. And then from a marketing perspective, we’ve been developing more tools to give them, that allows them to engage in that conversation via a digital platform.
Scott: Really interesting. You know, necessity being the mother of invention because I think a lot of these patterns are being forced to change because of COVID and some of it will be for the good. The ability to get help at home, I think, should stay. You know, there’s no reason to go to the hospital every time. That’s good.
I kind of wanted to dive in a little bit about EEGU. Like, EEG to everybody and then add the letter U at the end. So, I’m guessing EEG University. What’s it all about? What were you trying to do? Like, what were the benefits involved for that?
Jennifer: So EEGU or EEG University is a program that was designed to bring value-add to the neurology community, the epilepsy community, and help to train and provide accreditation credits for EEG technologists. Obviously, when you have an EEG tech, whether they’re in a hospital setting, a physician office setting or in the in-home setting, it’s very important that they know how to hook up the equipment correctly, that they know how to dialog and interface with the patient correctly, and not only do they need initial training but they also need to have ongoing continuing education in order to make sure that they’re up to date on all the latest, you know, understanding of how equipment may have changed, the newest thoughts in the field that are coming out.
So techs, and there’s two levels, some of them are not required to be accredited. Other techs, for example, the techs that we have that actually monitor a patient’s EEG and then also look through the data and provide a report to the physician at the end all have to have accreditation, and those accreditations require yearly CEU programs.
So there were really two needs. One was the first that there are not enough of these trained and accredited techs to supply either the industry, us, or to supply hospitals and physician offices and much of that centered around the fact that there are not enough educational programs to train people initially and/or to provide the ongoing educational CEU credits that were easily accessible and cost-effective to help these techs stay well-trained and help keep their certification.
As part of our commitment then to being the industry leader, not just being the biggest and not just seeing the largest number of patients, but leading the industry and making sure that we were advancing it from a patient care perspective as well as diagnostic information perspective, we decided to come in and offer what originally started as our in-house ongoing educational program to bring that to the physician, the tech community, the nurse practitioners, physician’s assistant. Make that available to all of them at no cost whatsoever to the participants.
Scott: Yes, that’s like a win-win-win in a way, right? You’re providing a service to people utilizing equipment. You are helping the neurology practices out there whether they’re in a hospital or independent and frankly ultimately the patients are enjoying the benefits thereof as well.
Michael: Everybody, I always appreciate that you tune in, that you’re listening to the show here. I wanted to let you know that we have set up a new newsletter that you can get to at paradigmshift.health. That’s paradigmshift.health. You can go there.
And the reason that we’ve got this newsletter is that we like to send out a few extra pieces of information with the show. We also have the full transcript for every single episode that we do, and we can let you know that through email. We can let you know also if we have a good quote card to be able to show for every episode. So check that out if you like. paradigmshift.health. Thanks so much.
Scott: I guess my question would be, you know, when you’re marketing essentially this value-added service, which is really to me a home run. It’s good for everybody. There’s no bad to this. How do you position that conversation with the three different parties, right? You’ve got a conversation you’re going to have about EEGU that you would have, say, with the doctors themselves, the neurologists, a different way with the techs, and then last but not least the patients. Do you talk to them as well?
Jennifer: So, yes, we do. I’ll start with the first which was, you know, the physician. The conversation there is one of two things is, first off, if we are talking to a hospital, or either we’re supplementing their services, or talking to them about adding us as a supplement to their services, or even in a physician’s office that has their own EEG tech, we’re potentially offering the value of being their backup for when their tech might be out on vacation or calls in sick.
It’s a perfect way for us to go in and say, “Once again, we’re providing a value to you and there’s no strings attached. We want to help you make sure that your staff has what they need to deliver on the promise and the quality of the service offering.” And in the same aspect, it allows then us to demonstrate our commitment and the quality of commitment that we have when they participate in these programs as well.
So once again, partially you might call it a selling tool, but it’s really the selling tool of selling the brand. It’s not just that we’re making it more convenient, but we’re providing the same high-quality service that you would get if it was coming from the physician’s office themselves or from that hospital as well.
Scott: That’s great. And do you have a specific conversation like… or does the patient get involved in this conversation?
Jennifer: The patient does not get involved with the conversation, at this point in time. The carryover to the patient is when they visit our website and, let’s just use the example, they have been referred by their physician to allow us into their home to provide this testing. They want to make sure that our people, you know, are well-trained, that they can trust who’s coming into their home. They want to make sure that the test they have is successful, right? So they’re not having a test that ultimately doesn’t lead to providing enough information or quality information to allow their physician to make a diagnosis from.
So when they see this on our website as part of our overall service offering, we believe that once again it helps to give the patient confidence that we’re the right service provider to let in to their home and trust with us being the ones to administer their test.
Jared: Yeah, that’s actually where I was going to go with that, Jennifer, is thinking about that ultimate effect because that’s not always the first selling point that comes out of all this, right, because we have to sell so many different points here. But for a patient to be able to make this connection that there’s a benefit to them ultimately, it does seem like, you know, the rise of in-home care overall has led to patients being more empowered and asking more questions and just being more aware of what the process looks like. And it’s just one other side of the consumerization of healthcare happening that, if we welcome it in, that’s what it sounds like to me is that this program helps the provider be more prepared to have those types of conversations to explain it to the patient where they feel comfortable. And it does seem like the setting of it being in their home does make a difference.
Jennifer: Absolutely, absolutely. And as I said, part of that training of the techs is helping to make sure that they have the tools that they need in order to articulate why this test is being ordered, what’s the value of actually having the test. So once the physician orders the test of actually not just ignoring it but actually going through on it so that ultimately, like you said, without a diagnosis particularly when we’re dealing with any of the conditions in neurology typically it’s not easy to get a definitive diagnosis.
And it’s hard to convince a patient quite honestly to have EEG leads on their head for 72 hours as well. So this is very much a place where we need engagement from the standpoint of building trust that a physician, a tech in the hospital or physician’s office as well as us as the service provider that we’re all providing the quality of information that the patient needs to feel comfortable to go through with this testing.
Jared: Gotcha. So if I could get a little even more tactical here for a moment, are we able to talk to, like, what the platforms are? How do you actually convey and educate as part of EEGU? Like, how do you convey the information there? What platforms are you using to bring providers and provide them this education?
Jennifer: Absolutely. So, we are actually using the same platform that we are on right now, which is Zoom. So Zoom hosts all of our EEGU. Their tools are set up so that we can engage it where it’s actually a two-way conversation where we can open it up for Q&A or where we can pull the techs. We can have our presenter ask a question and allow the audience, you know, to come in and take a poll of, you know, what they believe the correct answer is. The other beauty that I skipped right through is the fact that we engage leading neurologists and epileptologists across the country in order to deliver this content.
So our last EEGU, we had a physician that’s based out of Washington, D.C. that was actually our presenter. So he’s able to be in his home or in his office presenting the information while we here, as the host, are sitting in Dallas, Texas while our audience is literally spread across the world because we have people that are attending from Saudi Arabia and from India and various countries around the world, let alone the United States.
So that enables us to engage in that conversation in a high quality. It also enables us to record those sessions so that we then post them to our website and allow people to actually go in. If they haven’t been able to join a session because it didn’t work with their time and their schedule is they can go in and they can actually view and listen to the sessions afterwards as well.
Jared: Fantastic. Well, and because of the engagement you’re getting there, I imagine that there was definitely an intent to make things easy and simple wherever possible. So it’s nice to know like you’re not forcing them to learn a new platform or go somewhere where they’re unfamiliar, that I imagine the fact that you’re using tools that most providers are pretty familiar with on a daily basis that that likely makes this communication easier.
Jennifer: Absolutely, absolutely. And the fact, too, that things… As I said, this program does allow them to get CEU credits. So the way the tool works, it actually, you know, provides us attendance reports and information so that we can then send it to the accrediting body who then automatically generates the credits for the attendees as well. And it’s all a very simple and seamless project for us to run and administer as well as it is for the attendees that they don’t have to fill in an extra form and send it off to the accreditation body. That’s all automatically taken care of for them.
Jared: Oh, nice, nice. Yeah, that’s a big deal. That’s important.
Scott: Yeah, it is a big deal.
Jared: Well, I’ll tell you what, Jennifer, so I imagine that, in your role, you’re able to have a direct line of sight to what Stratus’ leadership is keeping an eye on on their radar screen as well as all the stakeholders involved, all the providers in this community, and everywhere where you want to go with growing the business.
Let’s talk about that for a second. Like, what’s on the radar screen for Stratus right now. I mean, I think the one consensus in nearly 70 episodes of this program and just elsewhere we’re privileged to have started this program before COVID and kept it going since the pandemic. And so these answers keep changing, and I think that’s one of the fascinating parts about it just how things have evolved. But from a business, and growth, and marketing standpoint, what’s on the radar screen right now? Like, what is Stratus hoping to accomplish in, say, the next 12 months?
Jennifer: So we actually have some very exciting things. The first is… And just your timing is perfect is we are next week launching a new web-based platform for our EEG software for physicians. It’s always been, up until this point in time, where the data was stored in the cloud but physicians had to have an application installed on a computer for them to actually access that data and view it, which in some cases meant that if the software was installed on their office computer, because of security concerns, when they left the office at night, they did not necessarily have access to their EEG data, which a lot of times actually when physicians would look and read this data because that’s their time when they’re not engaged in patient care and one-on-one conversations.
So our new platform now means that a physician will be able to access their EEG data to review and do reporting from any time of day, anywhere from any internet connected device. So tying into telehealth, you know, it broadens a physician’s access to data and ability to provide the information that they need in order to guide their treatment decisions, that they can do it any time day or night.
We’ve had our own medical director that’s actually pulled it up using the screen in his Tesla, not that we recommend that, but, you know, if it’s a weekend and you have a patient that’s just come into an emergency room, you’ll be able to pull up that data on the phone while you’re at your kid’s soccer game or what have you.
So we’re, again, really excited. It’s expanding this telehealth and starting to have the convergence of technology, so telehealth becomes seamless. That’s our first thing, and then the second thing we’re excited on is, as I mentioned, we have over 60,000 patients that we’ve treated. We hold the world’s largest database of this patient data all de-identified and anonymized so we’re completely holding patient confidentiality.
But what it’s allowing our R&D division to do is to apply machine learning and basically develop technologies that make it fast and easy for the software to tell whether or not an EEG is normal or potentially abnormal. And there’s a whole lot of other things that also the identification of biomarkers from EEG data as well. This would enable an EEG to look for things like ADHD or traumatic brain injury. Someone who’s at, you know, the NFL, for example. They’ve been hit really hard and has a concussion actually gone above and beyond just mild and should they enter back into the game. Or, for the military, do you send a military man back into combat, you know, after something’s happened to them as well?
So there’s all kinds of incredibly exciting things. It’s all right at the cusp right now of being verified and validated before releasing, but it’s really exciting to see these applications that are really going to take things in a whole new direction.
Jared: Oh, very cool. So it sounds like the access and the availability of data was really the problem you’re hoping to solve here. Was that something that has come about since the pandemic like as a result of the pandemic or was that something that got prioritized higher as a result of it? I’m just curious if that’s something that was already on the radar screen.
Jennifer: It was already on the radar screen mostly because our chief medical officer and our R&D as I said was looking to what’s coming in the future. Where could we take it? Where should it be going? So we have this all in the works, but to your question, Jared, is, yes, we accelerated development as a result of the pandemic in order to make sure that we were there and able to fill a need that was coming up today rather than 12, 24 months down the road.
Michael: That is awesome. Yeah, so much more I’d love to ask you about on this. We’re going to have to wrap today unfortunately, but it sounds like the marketing path is set pretty clear for you there and just how many exciting things are coming that you get to talk about. So that’s fantastic.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s a beautiful place to be as a marketer. You know, sometimes we have, you know, dry patches where we’re looking for something different and some new value. But, no, I’m really very lucky to sit in this position right now because we have a great offering today and it’s just going to get better over the upcoming months and years.
Michael: That’s wonderful. Jennifer, thank you so much for coming on the show. As always, we appreciate everybody that listens and have a great week.
Announcer: Thanks again for tuning into the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare.” This program is brought to you by Health Connective, custom marketing solutions for medtech and pharma. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or anywhere you listen to podcasts.