Obi delivers function—and form

 - 
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

DAYTON, Ohio – DESiN and its Obi robotic eating device have been making a mark on the complex rehab industry. First, The VGM Group and U.S. Rehab included Obi as one of the pieces of equipment they donated to children during their Heartland Conference in June, and then National Seating & Mobility announced that it was partnering with DESiN to distribute the device nationwide in August. Here’s what Scott Stone, former vice president of customer experience for the company, had to say about the increasing interest in Obi and his new venture in healthcare social strategy.

HME News: Obi is just getting on my radar, but when was the company actually formed?

Scott Stone: Jon Dekar, a friend from high school whose grandfather couldn’t feed himself anymore due to a neurogenerative disease, got fanatically focused on it in 2006 and spent six years developing and testing it, and researching what true opportunities existed. Once he graduated from college, he and his father put together a business plan and launched the company. I came onboard in 2015 and helped take the product to market. I was with Proctor & Gamble and I was asked, “Would you like to take a risk by quitting your job to build a company that has the potential of helping thousands of people?” By this time, I yearned for a shake-up from the politics and mundaneness of corporate America, and the rest is history.

HME: What kind of traction have you been able to achieve in the past three years at Obi?

Stone: We did a great job getting the news out there. Five hundred articles have been posted about us, including 30 unique articles. We’ve amassed 6 million views on viral Facebook videos. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures; everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy food. That’s what Obi stands for.

HME: Obi has a sleek, futuristic design.

Stone: It challenges the status quo that beggars can’t be choosers. Often, manufacturers choose function over form, because function is king in a reimbursement world. What Obi allows for is that feeling of, I want to go out in public, to experience my life, to eat with others. There was a 17-year-old with cerebral palsy who we gave a demo to. He thought, “Wow, I can feed myself,” and a light switch went off and he thought, “What else can I do?” His therapist called me and said, “I don’t know what happened, but Jordan decided to go out to eat and show people he can feed himself.” She would send pictures.

HME: You mentioned reimbursement. This isn’t a Medicare coded and reimbursed item, right?

Stone: Technically, we’re still not coded by CMS. When we first started, we could only offer Obi as an out-of-pocket, luxury item. Many people were frustrated, to say the least. Over the past few years, we learned many different funding strategies that are utilized in the industry. One interesting story, early on in our launch, involves being told by a girl’s parents that her family could not afford our device and that I had to deliver the news. Rather than giving in to this unfortunate situation, I spent countless hours on how to find another way. I educated them on GoFundMe and even helped set up their campaign. We made a video, launched a campaign, and 12 days later, the money was raised. After that, we thought, what else is possible?

HME: Has any type of insurer covered the device?

Stone: As I said earlier, we’re not a coded item; however, if an individual obtains a letter of medical necessity, there’s a good chance it can get approved under a miscellaneous code. It’s worth the effort and in most cases, we’re able to help the individual through the process. At the end of the day, people ask two questions when they see Obi: Does it work for me and how do we pay for it? We’re committed to helping people answer both of those to the best of our ability.

HME: It sounds like it has been a long, but rewarding, journey, and that the company has turned a corner.

Stone: We had no idea the magnitude of the mountain ahead of us in bringing this product to market. But each year, we make significant strides whether it be going viral to the public, international distribution around the world, or insurance reimbursement. We’re definitely growing and committed to delivering independence and dignity to those around the world that wish for it.

HME: The goal of some startups is to grow—and sell. What’s the long-term strategy?

Stone: We’re open to the future growth of this company. We know we could be the premier robotic company in the DME market. We could stand alone on that. That being said, complex rehab manufacturers or providers could offer to buy us. We don’t know what we’re destined to do, but we know we’re in the business of helping people. We know we have a great product and are open to the possibilities of what the market wants from a company like us.

HME: How has your work at Obi led you to your desire for consulting healthcare companies looking to increase their marketing and social media efforts?

Stone: I have found over the past three-plus years that I thrive in building relationships and community. I believe that each product or company creates a unique story between each interaction with a customer. I work with companies to help elicit these stories and share them as powerful word-of-mouth marketing. We are growing into a digital age where word-of-mouth and social referrals carry more weight than any sponsored ad or email campaign. It’s time that we start embracing these new technologies and our digital footprints, which give us opportunity for open, authentic communication with our clients. At the end of the day, community is our biggest currency.