Problem: Progress in physical therapy requires patients to do their exercises diligently outside of their physical therapy appointments, on their own time. It’s homework, and if you’ve been to school you know that people don’t always do their homework, even if they know they should. Solution: Technology?

Tom Waddell, COO and co-founder of TheraTec, is helping devise products that will better enable and encourage patients to comply with the outside-the-clinic requirements of their treatment plans.

TheraTec has created TherApp, which exists as both an application and a piece of hardware—in the form of a high-tech exercise band—that reinforces positive treatment behaviors and holds patients accountable for actually doing things like their physical therapy home exercise program. The band makes use of a mobile sensor that creates objective data to show that exercises were done.

“Our system allows for the patients to get feedback and encouragement and know that they’re getting better along the way,” Waddell said.

TheraTec created their first app in part at the request of the Fairview Institute for Athletic Medicine. Waddell’s characterizes the Institute’s pitch to TheraTec thusly: “We have a simple request. We want our patients to do their exercises more.”

But the potential applications of TheraTec’s products extend beyond physical therapy and into any aspect of healthcare that requires patients to make use of their own time outside the clinic or measure their own progress.

“The ambition is to create an array of products that help people through coaching,” Waddell said.

One example Waddell shared was using cell phones to aid diabetes drug compliance.

“Just texting people three times a day helps improve their compliance dramatically,” Waddell said. “The cell phone is the best behavior change device ever.”

Waddell’s presentation at One Million Cups won’t focus directly on TheraTec, but on one of the key questions that underpin it: “How do you combine tech and behavior change to have people do the right thing?”

Waddell began his career as an electrical engineer in the world of semi-conductors. Then he worked running projects at Medtronic, and he later started a project management company specializing in medical device projects. 

One of the primary challenges that came with starting TheraTec was getting people to pay for coaching in a business that isn’t always the best at embracing proactive approaches.

“The industry’s not really set up to be health care,” Waddell said. “It’s more to be sick care.”

So TheraTec not only helps to solve problems within the health care industry, it also subtly advocates for a positive change to the way that industry operates.

“Fifty percent of health care-related costs are because of things that we really know better,” Waddell said. His company sets out to find ways technology can help people become more likely to act on the health knowledge they already possess.

Austin Gerth