For Critical Signal Technologies, An Aggressive Approach to Growing the Telehealth Industry

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

Jeffery Prough, CEO of Critical Signal Technologies, is taking an alternative approach to reforming the healthcare system. Instead of getting caught up in political debate, Prough is using his business to try to improve healthcare conditions.

Critical Signal, the Farmington Hills, MI-based company that Prough founded in 2006, is already one of the five largest developers of personal emergency response systems in the country. But Prough says he’s on a mission to expand the company’s reach still farther. “It’s become my passion to, very simply put, let people age or deal with disease or chronic illness on their terms and typically in their own homes,” he says. His company aims to do that by using wireless monitoring and communications technologies to keep an eye on its clients and keep them linked with vital emergency and medical services.

Since launching Critical Signal, Prough says he’s taken an aggressive approach to growing the company, starting with the gamble he and four other investors took when they spent large sums up front to build their monitoring platform—which was larger and more advanced than that of most other companies at the time—with no customers lined up.

The risk paid off, the company continued to grow, and by 2009 it was even able acquire Link to Life, which Prough says was “a 30-year-old, long-standing, very large personal-response company” at the time.

Before launching Critical Signal, Prough got some experience in the field. While he was president and COO of Guardian Alarm Company he ran its telehealth subsidiary. That job made him increasingly concerned with “how poorly we treat older Americans.” Prough realized he was “a little more excited” about the prospects in telehealth than his colleagues at Guardian were so he decided to strike out on his own.

“You recognize how little we do for these folks,” he says. “I am emotionally tied to it because of personal experience and I am increasingly attached to it from the people we talk to every day.”

Those people are some of the 65,000 clients—up from zero in 2006—that now use Critical Signal’s products. Prough says the company’s core technology is an emergency response system based around a pendant that clients can wear around their houses. When the client pushes a button on the pendant, it opens up a hands-free call with someone who has been trained to handle emergencies. The system also allows the person who picks up the phone to know who is calling, who his or her emergency contacts are, and so forth.

“When they press that pendant they’ve already told us what they want to happen,” Prough says. “We have a lot of information at our fingertips.”

To be sure, the basic idea is the same as one that was immortalized in LifeCall’s “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ads of the late 1980s. But what really sets Critical Signal apart from other companies offering similar products is the scale and flexibility of its monitoring system, Prough says. In many cases, hospitals, patients or home healthcare companies using telehealth services have to purchase their equipment from a specific vendor and use its software. But Critical Signal is somewhat of a one-stop shop, with the ability to connect with a variety of platforms, Prough says.

In addition to the emergency response system, Critical Signal also offers products that aim to prevent health problems and emergencies. A medication management system, for instance, helps patients keep up with often complicated drug regimens by dispensing the right quantities of medication at the right time. And if the client doesn’t take his or her medication, Critical Signal staffers call to remind them.

“The number one reason for re-admission to the hospital is medication non-compliance,” Prough says.

Critical Signal is also attacking the problem of hospital re-admission is through a wireless vital-signs monitoring system. Often when patients are sent home from the hospital, they’re unsure of how to follow their doctor’s instructions and Prough says he hopes the technology will “take the fear out of patients going home.”

“(Doctors) rely on the patient to tell them how they feel,” he says. “Conditions get exacerbated because of a lack of information.”

Prough says he believes vital-signs monitoring is the “catalyst” for how the telehealth field is going to change in the future. With the ability to monitor vital signs wirelessly, patients and doctors will be able to communicate more effectively, Prough says, and patients will feel like “they have some control over what’s going on.” And though the industry has been around for quite some time, Prough says it’s exploded in the last five years and he expects to see a “real boom” in the next five to ten years, largely due to demographic trends.

“The Baby Boomer generation has now turned 65 and that generation is going to want to stay at home,” he says.

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