Inside ROMTech with Kelsey Szukhent on Rapid Recovery Report™

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Toree: Hello everyone, I am Toree McGee, and this is the Rapid Recovery Report, sponsored by ROMTech, the modern technology of rehabilitation.  So, we’ll be doing a weekly series, if you haven’t caught on yet, every Thursday at 4:00pm Pacific and 7:00pm Eastern, where we talk to different guests, whether it’s a surgeon or a patient, or one of our own ROM stars as we like to call them, to get you some inside information and discuss wellness, health, and touched on ROMTech’s PortableConnect.

Now, if you’re new to ROMTech, this right here, it’s going to pop up on the screen – our producer, Gio, is going to put that up there – is the PortableConnect.  And it is a high-tech at getting patients moving forward and moving generally after injuries and after surgeries.  So, if you want to learn a little more about us, you can visit us at www.romtech.com, and follow us on the social media handles listed right there.  Isn’t that cool?  We’re pretty fancy here on our podcast. 

Director of Market Development, Kelsey Szukhent

So, we’ve actually got a guest today that I’m so excited about.  I get to work with her every day, Kelsey Szukhent, and she is actually the recipient of our very first ever ROMTech Indiana Jones Award, and we’ll talk about that here in a minute.  

But a little background on Kelsey, so Kelsey’s been with ROMTech since November of 2017.  And she was one of the original 10-team members during the early days here at ROM.

So, her background is in healthcare, with a focus in internal medicine and patient care.  So, back in 2015, she set out to break the routine of a 9:00 to 5:00, and started her own consulting business.  And then after being introduced to ROMTech, she started working in fundraising, as well as marketing for the PortableConnect.  

At the launch of the first ROMTech pilots in January 2020, she immediately started working with our COO to lead efforts in market development, expanding the reach of ROMTech’s brand, and servicing patient recovery needs for the first time as a company.  She now directs the market development and inside sales teams, as ROMTech reaches new heights.  

So, welcome, Kelsey.  I’m so happy you’re here.

Kelsey: Thank you.  I’m excited.  Thanks for letting me to be able to star on The Rapid Recovery Report.

Toree: Of course.  Now, show us that beautiful award that you have.

Kelsey: Oh, my gosh.  It was so pretty.  I think this was Wendy Para, who is amazing.  Think she designed this, but isn’t it so pretty?  It’s heavy too.

Toree: It’s gorgeous.  So, the Indiana Jones Award is basically for fast thinking and problem solving pretty quick, which Indy tends to do. 

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely.  So, I was kind of on the original conversations.  This is actually the brainchild of Peter, our CEO.  And I’m sort one of those original thinktanks of what are we going to do, we don’t want to do something really normal, because that’s never what ROMTech’s been about.  So, we didn’t want to do employee-of-the-month or something like that.  So, we were really building this whole idea of the Indiana Jones Award around those that kind find themselves in a pickle, and get themselves out quickly, rapid response, and creative thinking, which is kind of what startups are all about. 

So, I was very honored.  I had no idea that I was even in the running.  I thought, well, I was on the thinktanks, of course, I’m not going to be in the running.  And then, I attended the meeting, and Peter started talking about projects that I have been working on, and I thought, is he talking about me, and sure enough.  It was a very nice surprise, and this was a super nice surprise too.  It came all nicely boxed and very cool.

Toree: Well, beautiful.  There’s no one that I have met in this company as deserving as you are, most definitely with this.  

Kelsey: Well, thank you.

Toree: Let’s kind of get right into this, Kelsey.  I know there’s a lot of stuff to cover, and I’m looking forward to digging in.  So, tell us a little bit about how you started in the medical field.  So, I heard that you’ve gone to nursing school, or had a plan to go to nursing school, so like what’s that like, and what led you there?

Kelsey: Yeah.  So, I actually come from a long line of nurses.  It kind of runs in the family, if you will.  And I kind of knew I wanted to be in healthcare, and I was a little nervous straight out of high school. 

Now, going back, I graduated out of high school at 16, and went right into college.  And at that time, I just wasn’t sure I could handle nursing.  I started all of my classes for that.  I got a degree in applied science, and started working with patients in a more clinic setting.  Fell in love with it, and then started pursuing my nursing degree as a bachelor’s nurse.  And just before I entered my clinical rotations, my whole world changed.  I found out I was going to have my first baby, and my whole perspective changed, so now I’m here.

The PortableConnect’s Early Days

Toree: Well, good.  It’s nice, I’m sure, to have that background, working with patients while you’re kind of developing everything having to do with ROMTech in the processes.  I mean, that kind  of leads, I guess, into the question of how did your story begin with us here at ROMTech, as one of the very first people to be hired when the product didn’t even exist yet.

Kelsey: Yeah, it’s sort of a funny story, and I really blame it on how contagious Peter’s enthusiasm is.  Because I had started my consulting business, and I was consulting for several companies.  And then I just got this call, out of the blue, from Peter Arn.  And I’ve never heard of Peter Arn before.  I quickly kind of looked up the website, and we were on Zoom 10 minutes later, face to face.  And mind you, at this time, I was not expecting a Zoom, so I did not look like this.  It’s more like I crawled out from under a bridge or something.  And Peter didn’t care.  He was just like, hey, can you help me get this job done, I’ve got this idea, and I need a great engineer, and I need somebody that can spend like all day just finding an engineer that will take this on, and make it happen.  So, I think it was just his enthusiasm was so contagious.  He’s a great sales guy, that Peter, and I was hooked.

Toree: So, we’ve heard the stories before, and I don’t know if everybody has, but I certainly have, of the story of the PortableConnect evolving from a cocktail napkin sketch, right, like an airplane napkin?

Kelsey: Yeah.  So, sort of the start of it all was just the lamenting of an orthopedic surgeon with the right ears in the room of, gosh, it’s so difficult to get my patients moving sometimes, I just wish I could do X, Y, Z. And then the idea was kind of born, and trialed on our larger product, the Pro Cycle.  And once we’ve done some clinical studies there, and found that it worked, and did provide better outcomes, we thought, okay, great, we’re cooking with gas now.

And on a flight, one of our founding advisory members found himself on an airplane for three hours, and he just sat with airplane napkins, and sketched it out, and then showed the picture over to Peter, and like, hey, like this, and that’s how it all began.

Toree: Oh my gosh, that is so cool.  So, for those of you that may not know, we do have two different products.  The Pro Cycle was kind of our flagship, and we’ve moved more into the PortableConnect, which again is smaller, it’s portable, it’s for in-home use, and our patients absolutely love it.

The Pro Cycle is a little bit bigger, and you still might see it in some physical therapy offices.  The PortableConnect just comes with a lot more bells and whistles in the mechanics of it, as well as just the ability to kind of track data and all that good stuff.

So, tell us then, Kels, how the PortableConnect has evolved then from that cocktail napkin sketch through the kind of different itterations into what we see today.

Kelsey: Yeah, so we call the first version the clunker, affectionately.  Now, you really can only find them in dusty corners of our warehouses, because they basically all come back at this point, but occasionally, we still got a request. 

Essentially, it didn’t really have a motor or anything.  We had built a sort of wireframe of the software that could control things a bit, or at least do the reporting that we needed.  And then it had a manually adjusting pedal, which now of course, the PortableConnect is all electronically adjusted, and has all these reporting features, but the very early days was this heavy box with discs and pedals on side. 

And let me tell you, Toree, when we had a company wide meeting, there was like maybe 20 or 30 of us at the time, and Peter shared a video of one of our engineers pedaling it, and getting some feedback on the tablet.  And we were like, whoa.  Like we all freaked out, clapping.

Looking back now, the thing is so ugly.  I don’t know why we’re so excited.  It was the first time the baby had become real, I think, for any one of us.  

Then from there, we kind of turned it into the teardrop shape that it is now.  And we didn’t have the tablet attached.  We first thought we were going to have the tablet kind of separate that they could hold.  That got changed for a number of reasons, but one of them being we had done some in-the-field tests.  And Peter, being the great guy that he is, had insisted that he’d be a part of these tests.  Wendy and I were like, no, no, we can handle it, it’s fine.  He’s like, no, I want to be there.

So, we put ads out on Craigslist, and said, “We’d pay you 25 bucks to show up at this hotel, like meeting room, and just tell us what you think of this product.”  So, we set it up with a chair, and you can kind of sat off to the side, and the device, the table.  They signed a release.  And they’d walk in, and they’d say, oh, what do I do with it.  Peter said, “What do you think you should do with it?” 

And we just really wanted to see how intuitive it was.  And when we had a patient sit on the backend of the teardrop, and then tried to like recline back to pedal, it became apparent to us that the front of the device was not clear enough.  So, among other reasons the tablet ended up on the front of it, if for nothing else, just to tell them where the front is. 

Toree: Fair enough.  I mean, clearly, surgeon feedback and patient feedback and kind of just putting it out there to be tested has shaped a lot of the PortableConnect itself, right?

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely.  It started from sort of the lamenting of an orthopedic surgeon, and our whole goal has been you don’t bring a product to market that you are telling someone what they need.  You let them tell you what they need, and then you bring that to market.  

So, the whole evolution, everything that we see today with the PortableConnect and continuing to grow is always based on the patient’s feedback, the surgeon’s feedback.  We have hours and hours of calls and workshops with surgeons and PTs, and we really wanted to get a full understanding of what we could do, and what void we could fill.  So, yeah, that was hugely important to us right from the get go.

Toree: Well, that’s great.  I mean, having surgeon feedback be so prominent in the very beginning, clearly has made the necessary changes to everything, from the software, to the hardware. 

Now, since it was integrated from the very beginning, how much more feedback are you anticipating?  It’s just as important now as it was at the very beginning, right?

Kelsey: Absolutely.  So, the start of the pilots in January of 2020 was as much as we wanted to – and we do want to help patients get better.  It’s also a learning experience for us.  So, each pilot brings us a new surgeon’s perspective, a new practice, a slightly different way of doing things.  So, when we use those things, then we’re always evolving.  I don’t see a point where ROMTech will ever throw their hands up, and say, “We’re just done learning now,” because that’s just not where we started.  And I don’t see us going there.

Do I think the device is right there, it’s 98% of what we want it to be?  Yes, but we’re continuing with these pilots, and growing at this rapid pace, and it’s really helping us sort of pressurize that system, and find any of those small tweaks that we want to make.

Getting Surgeons and Patients on Board

Toree: Now, for those of you that don’t know, Kelsey and I do a lot of the same job.  Kelsey does like 10,000 more things than I do, but generally, when we’re speaking with surgeons, and kind of setting up pilot sites, it’s the same conversations that we’re tending to have.  So, I know what my answer is for this, but I’ve got a question for you of what complaints do you typically hear from surgeons when it comes to implementing something new?  Like, whether it’d be a new DME device or a new process in their office, like what do you hear from them the most?

Kelsey: Without a doubt, the first question out of any surgeon’s mouth is, is it covered by insurance, and followed quickly by how much impact on the workflow does this have. 

I mean, these guys are doing the heavy lifting.  I mean, I love my job, but people’s lives are not in my hands, and they are for the surgeon.  So, we, of course, respected that, and going into this, wanted the PortableConnect to be as minimally invasive as possible.  So, I think it’s really what I hear, and the skepticism is really like, okay, you’ve built this system, it sounds like I’m not going to have to do a lot of work, and it sounds like my patient is going to get covered, but are you really going to deliver on that.  And I’m very proud to say that we have been able to, so no promises unkept, as of yet.

Toree: I was going to say that’s my answer too.  I mean, we talk to them, and they’re like, this sounds great, but I’ve been sold snake oil before, and the way of like, yes, you say that we hand you the prescription, and it’s hands-off, but we wind up doing a ton of the work, and like it’s been nice to say, no, no, that’s actually the case.  And if it’s not, like I’ll give you my personal address to kind of kick in the butt.  You know what I mean?

Kelsey: Exactly.  

Toree: For sure.  So, you’ve been a really important integral part of creating the process of prescribing and making it easy on the doctors’ offices, and their staff.  So, tell us a little bit about how you streamlined the process?  Like, where did you start, versus kind of where we are now?

Kelsey: Sure.  So, this time last year, we had our first few patients on the device, but it was really informal ordering process, because we weren’t really doing much with insurance until later in the 2020 year.  We’re really just trying to get our feet wet. 

We had some really great consultants that kind of came in, and helped us more fully understand the billing side of things, which then shaped the paperwork.

So, going into it, Steve Seigel, the COO and myself, kind of meeting with these teams, and just trying to absorb as much information as we can.  We quickly found out that there’s no one consultant out there that’s doing or has experience doing what we’re doing, because ROMTech is kind of trailblazing in some ways, so we became the experts.  

And took that information that we knew about the billing, what had to be done with our amazing billing team lead, Hope Wen, and we built out these forms.  And when she came onboard, I had a sort of rough sketch of all these forms.  We’ve used them a couple of times.  But it’s really been her leadership and sort of us going back and forth and collaborating on how we can skinny it down, because it started off like five pages of information we needed.  And we got it down to this just really concise prescription order form, and then a letter of medical necessity template that came later to prevent peer-to-peer calls necessarily being a thing, and help streamline the prior authorizations with the commercial insurances.

So, it really was kind of an evolution, but I credit a lot bigger brains than mine for helping me learn everything I needed to know.  

Toree: That’s how I feel any time anybody asks me anything.  I was like, I always credit Kelsey.  Kelsey taught me everything.  I don’t know.  

So, with originally wanting to get into the medical field as a nurse, and being able to help people, and I know you said surgeons do the heavy lifting, they’re the ones that have people’s lives in their hands, has working here in the medical device environment at ROMTech fulfilled that part of you?  Has it like scratched the itch to help people?

Kelsey: IT has, and what’s interesting is this might come out like more wrong than I expected to, but I think ROMTech also helped me discover other itches I wanted to like get to.

I love patient care.  I have some real relationships with patients of mine.  They made me things for my first baby, and I’m still in touch with them, and they will check in.  They know where I live.  I have really good relationships with my patients, and I love that.  

But the way I see it now, well, I might not be on the frontlines of patient care at the very moment.  I’m doing something that makes patients’ lives better.  I’m becoming a better person.  I’m learning skills I didn’t even know I wanted to know.  And I’m really evolving as a human being.  And I’m so thankful for that opportunity with ROMTech, because it really is about the gumption you have, rather than the experience you bring to the table, because it’s all about that sort of ROMTech at heart, and everything else can be trained.  And I’m very thankful that I took the job in November of 17.  And looking back at that person now, I realize I’ve grown so much more, and have been able to evolve in ways I wouldn’t have if I had stayed put.

So, yes, it has scratched the itch in terms of making patients lives better, but it’s also changed my perspective on how I can do that.

Toree: Yeah, I love that.  I do.  All right, so we’ve got some folks that are watching live.  If you guys have any questions, we might be able to field one or two before our time is up, so go ahead and drop them in the comment section, and we’d be happy to get to those.  

ROMTech’s Tight-Knit Work Environment

But this one is I think something that we haven’t really talked all that much about before, Kelsey, and I’d like to just kind of chat about it.  So, since Kelsey and I kind of are able to work together throughout the day, we already know how the family aspect of ROMTech is, and I always feel stupid when I refer to it as like it’s a family, because there’s so many companies that do say that, and I think that they say it just so that it makes them sound good, and makes the employees like want to feel important or something like that.  But this is one of the first experiences that I’ve had in working with a group of people, and like are immediate core group of folks that we work within our department in market development are all women.  

And then we’ve got like our other circle that’s attached that’s mostly men.  And so, we kind of get to work with both, but like hand-in-hand, we are like a red rover kind of holding-hands team with myself and Kelsey and one of our other gals, Catherine.  It’s one of those, I guess, just kind of environments where maybe there might be some hesitation, because it is all women, and that tends to sometimes get a little catty, or just a little bit competitive.  And it has not been that for one second.  And I’m experiencing that familial kind of friendship and rollover in every person that I meet in the different departments.  Has it always been like that, Kelsey?

Kelsey: Yeah.  I mean, that’s really not an accident.  When it was the original 10, there was no HR, there was no quality.  I mean, there were no departments.  It was just sort of jump in, help out, do whatever you can, get the job done, and help move the ball forward.  

And I’m very proud of this entire team that we have kept that, and it’s been a very important part of building the team out in inside sales and outside sales, market development that we continue that, because I think that’s when people work the best, when they are actually valued.  

And I would echo and agree with what you said there.  I think a lot of companies use that.  Like, oh, we’re a family, but they use it in a way to be like, oh, we’re a family, so of course, you work over time, well, of course, you’ll do this.  Like, we’re going to beat you with a stick, but we’re a family, and that’s not what you have here.  

There’s pros and cons, everything.  I mean, you work on a big company, you kind of punch in, you punch out.  You know exactly what’s expected of you every day.  And you don’t have nearly as many fires.  But it is harder to have your voice heard, or to feel like you’re making a difference.  Whereas in a startup environment, it can be like it has been with ROMTech, which is very familial, and hey buddy, how can I help you.  You get to have your voice heard, but there’s an element of chaos in startups that I think some of us thrive in.  I don’t know what that says about me as a human, but I’ll take that off the table for now.

But I can say that I worked with many people over the course of my career prior to ROMTech, and I still talk to those people occasionally.  But I can tell you that some of the friends and relationships that I have made here, including yourself, if I’m going to lose those tomorrow, I would be like a changed person.  Like I would be a devastated human.  These people are like they are a family, and because we work so hard, we have each other’s back, and that is so amazing.  

So, I would encourage like anybody that’s just learning about ROMTech, or has seen the help wanted ads, and thought, oh, I’ll check out the podcast first, do it.  You won’t regret it.  You’ll sometimes wonder if we put stuff in the Kool-Aid, because once you get in, you’re like living that ROMTech.  

Toree: Yeah, a lifer.

Kelsey: Yeah, exactly.

Toree: I mean, the cool thing that I’ve experienced too is not only within the ROMTech employees is that’s the case, but the office staff, and these offices who are prescribing it, and the surgeons who are prescribing the device.  We’re bringing them into the fold, and trying to integrate them, and they’re feeling as warm and fuzzy and comfy with us, as we are with each other.  And especially because like you said, it’s still an environment and a place to have their voices heard, to make changes, and implement these things, whether it’s hardware, software, anything having to do with our processes that can authentically make a big difference in the impact of shaping where the company goes from here.

Kelsey: Oh, absolutely.  We’re in a middle of a project right now for building electronic ordering that’s similar to other platforms that clinic staff had been using, and that was the direct result.  Literally, like we had not thought about that in realistic terms until we started this project of actually speaking to the office staff, and saying, hey, what do you like, what do you not like, what do you want to see, what’s easiest thing for you to order for your physician, what’s the hardest thing, where do we stand there.  So, it’s absolutely like that.

We’re not out just peddling PortableConnects for the heck of it.  I look at it like we’re just expanding the reach of how many patients have access to it, and kind of increasing the family, because I’ve got relationships with a lot of, and I know you do too, these office staffs or these physicians, and it’s like you’ve got little things.  And occasionally, I’ll text somebody, and just harass them about something, play around, make sure they’re good.  It’s very familial.  It’s not all business, but we do get a lot done, I will say that.

Toree: Yeah, most definitely.  Well, I think that this has been one of the most fun, I think, for me to do, because I’m able to sit down, and actually talk with like a really good friend of mine now, and do one of these, and inform people as well.  

And our producer, she wanted me to not mention her, but I’m going to, because family, and we harass each other.  Our producer, Gio, who runs all of our social media and majority of our marketing, she is a guru of all of the things. 

Said everything is done remotely to boot.  That’s right.  We’ve got our core people that are in our warehouse, in our headquarters in Connecticut, but the rest of us are remote.  So, we’re on different time zones, and we’re just getting stuff done, and just knocking it out one-two.  

Kelsey: Yeah, I’ve been working with ROMTech for almost four years now from Michigan, and occasionally, we travel around for tradeshows and things like that, but it’s been huge to be able to do this remotely, and to meet people from all over the world, really, and work with them.

We’ve had team members that are like, “Hey, I can work anywhere with an internet connection, I’m going to be in Thailand, I’m going to go to Mexico.”  We’ve got team members in England.  It’s amazing, the people that you meet, and the perspectives you get, it’s been super cool.  

Toree: Yeah, I’ve been really thankful to find ROMTech and the team, and I’m jealous that you’ve been here for as long as you have, and I just found it last year.  

Thanks so much, Kelsey, for taking the time, and educating everybody on all of the processes, and from airline napkin to now, and into the future for ROMTech.  

Kelsey: To infinity and beyond.

Toree: That’s right.  All right, well, thanks so much.  And thank you to everybody watching.  Be sure to follow us on social media.  Subscribe to our channel on YouTube.  Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook.  And stay tuned for next week.  We’ll be here, same time, same place.  Thank you, guys, so much, and talk to you soon.  

Thanks for joining us.  Don’t forget to subscribe below.

Disclaimer: The content discussed on this program is often medical in nature, and is used for informational purposes only.  No content discussed should be taken as medical advice.  Please consult your healthcare professional for any medical questions. 

Privacy is also of the utmost importance to us.  All people, places, and scenarios mentioned have been changed to protect patient confidentiality, unless given explicit written permission to share.  

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing a “standard of care” in a legal sense, or as a basis for expert witness testimony.

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