President, Blake Rutherford and CTO, Dominic Foster of Healthcare Observation Systems, LLC sat down in their Baxter Avenue office space to talk with LouPreneur about the success of their company and innovative product, NICVIEW.
NICVIEW, a play on words for NICUs, or Neonatal Intensive Care Units, is a webcam system designed to provide parents, families and caretakers the option of having real time web access to monitor their newborn infants admitted into NICUs. These specialized neonatal facilities are important for infants who are born prematurely or with life-threatening health issues but are not available in every hospital, therefore children with needs that require NICU admission are often far from home in a regional facility, instead of a local one.
Rutherford laments that “it’s possible that an infant will live for up to six months ‘bottled up’ in these tiny units.” His prior professional experience was in neonatal and women’s services, which provided him an understanding of the difficulties within hospitals concerning visitation, availability, and accessibility. “We allow for parents or family to have access to their babies using a secure web portal and cameras stationed at each bed space in order to open up the visitation and increase family bonding.”
Parents who are unavailable to physically sit with their newborns can log in from home or work to a secure website and monitor their baby on its individual webcam. Mothers can keep a window open on their desktop at work to monitor their child’s hospital care; grandparents can watch their grandchild’s development from miles away; and fathers can develop a bond with their newborn child while overseas, without having yet actually held the baby in their arms.
Rutherford and Foster both spoke of the personal reward felt from getting this product into hospitals – particularly the thank-you emails and letters from families who have benefitted from having the NICVIEW system available in their hospital. Developing NICVIEW at first was just a “technological challenge” for Foster, the company’s CTO. At first, “something cool that wasn’t out there,” but his receipt of a heartfelt letter of gratitude from a grandmother who was able to meet and experience the brief life of her grandchild, who eventually passed on, caused Foster to realize, “this is real – we’re actually changing the lives of people.”
Despite the positive responses from families who have used the NICVIEW system, sometimes the idea of 24/7 surveillance from within the NICU caused question from both hospitals and parents who are unsure of the benefits of having web cameras monitoring their infant patients. Foster admits “it’s a difficult hurdle to actually get it in the hospital, because of a fear of ‘Big Brother’s watching me.’ Nurses concerned about the security of having cameras in the NICU, but as soon as it’s installed, they love it.”
The NICVIEW system is easily accessible online for parents, family members, and caretakers who have children being monitored by the NICU webcams. There are different levels of security for the clients. Those who may want to catch a still frame from the video to post to Facebook can do so, and those who are interested in higher privacy settings have that option as well. Hospital customer satisfaction scores actually increase due to NICVIEW’s availability for families. Rutherford puts it simply: “It has really been received exceptionally well.” Close to half of the NICUs in the United States have contacted Healthcare Observation Systems to learn more and contract the installation of NICVIEW into their NICUs, not to mention governments outside the U.S. who are beginning to express more and more interest in taking this system to a higher, global level.
What is behind the success of Healthcare Observation Systems and NICVIEW? Rutherford puts the product’s development lightly: “It was somewhat of an easy niche to fill, however we were the first company to actually sell a product worldwide, making the first commercially available webcam for this use.” Foster, employing skills for web creation and utilization, used what he refers to as “guerilla-style marketing,” getting the product out there via Google Search prioritization of their product name, posting on blogs followed by their main audience and consumer base, contacting potential clients and plugging their product using the Internet as their most powerful marketing tool.
It worked. NICVIEW coverage has been picked up not only locally but by CNN and USA Today. The most recent article from the Associated Press focused on NICVIEW’s use during Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans, which gave evacuated parents the ability to watch over their newborns during the disaster, yet another testimonial to the product’s intimate and poignant uses for family bonding during troubled times.
Foster admits the success of his company is on the right track. “If our projections are right, we may double the number of hospitals we’re in within the end of the year. Some of that is help from GLI, some of it is what we’ve already put in the pipeline.” Contributions from Greater Louisville, Inc. gave rise to opportunities to bring on more full-time employees to take care of support and day-to-day operations. Foster points out that their customer service systems work around the clock, by employees based in Louisville and Southern Indiana. “If it’s 3 a.m., you’ve got to be there to put on the smile for Grandma – even if it’s on a holiday. It’s a non-stop job.”
Rutherford and Foster have always held on to the potential of NICVIEW and Healthcare Observation Systems. “It just seems so important, something that could make such an enormous impact as long as people would buy into the product,” says Rutherford. Biggest challenge? “The red tape.” Hospitals have to find room in their budget during tight economic times. It has to be considered by foundations. It has to be scrutinized as a new product and concept with no precedence set. “It’s a very slow process. I know we are quickly gaining steam, but we have had to ride out the storm until people were accepting of this technology. The adoption rate has been very fast, but we’re still dealing with an exceptionally long lead time.” Advice for new businesses:
Don’t get frustrated with your product.For entrepreneurs, patience is a virtue, and can certainly pay off.