Maggie Bergeron is on a mission – a physiotherapist by trade, now Co-Founder of healthSwapp, a platform for health practitioners to guide patient recovery exercises in a digital format. Now two years deep, she speaks candidly about how she left her job to pursue an idea that could change the way that patients heal from injury. More importantly, she breathes life into an industry on the cusp of a huge technology shift – Maggie’s on the forefront of it.
What is the concept behind healthSwapp?
healthSwapp is for rehab practitioners, including physiotherapists and chiropractors, and their patients to share information patients learned in their appointments. It could be things like exercises or specific education that therapists taught them during the session, so when they walk away they don’t forget everything they learned. It provides more value for the patient because most of therapy happens outside of the clinic.
The idea behind healthSwapp is pretty innovative and niche, but it can impact a lot of people. When did you have that ‘aha’ moment where you saw an opportunity to build this?
I have my own practice, and part of my practice is within a community acupuncture clinic. The majority of my caseload don’t have insurance or can’t afford to come for regular physio sessions. A large part of my role is to teach self management strategies so they can contribute to their healing process every single day, not just during their physio sessions.
When I started, I would create pdf handouts that I would print or email to them.It was so time consuming – I took photos and wrote educational material, and I had to go in and edit the documents for individuals. Often I would spend 8 hours in clinic with patients and a few hours at night to send out the information.
Shortly after starting my practice I was speaking with a friend I had met dragon boating. He was a chemical engineer turned software developer. We talked about how to build a program to serve myself and my patients. When I started to speak to other physiotherapists, they also struggled with home exercise prescription and were unhappy with the current, clunky software programs available.
How did you decide to leave a clinic that you had built, and do this?
I still work clinically but have cut back on the time I spend with patients. I hired a physiotherapist to take over some of my caseload and I manage the business side of the practice. This has allowed me to step away and focus on growing healthSwapp with my co-founder.
Getting to know more than just the physio world was really important to me. I’ll always have my practice, but having experience in other industries or building something outside of a physio practice was something I needed to see.
“It’s easy to get such tunnel vision in your industry, that you can’t see outside of it.”
The first bit was to solve this immediate need, did you find it hard to sustain the growth of this project. Did you think right off the bat that it would be a viable business?
We thought it would be a small, sustainable business, but we didn’t understand the complexities of building something like healthSwapp. Once we started to get into the thick of it, we realized that in order to really grow this, we needed a lot of users and support. It was much more likely that we would have to grow it to something bigger than initially planned and we are now adjusting our course to support continued growth.
This idea requires a lot to sell it in to both users and medical professionals. How do you introduce change and options in an industry like yours?
Some of the challenges to selling this to practitioners is to show them that it’s not a difficult platform and that it’s easy to use. Many practitioners will say they’re not tech savvy or don’t have the time to implement something new into their practice. What’s been most important for our success was simplifying the user experience and making our interface straightforward.
At first we on-boarded solo practitioners and clinics through one-on-one sessions. These were time consuming but critical since the sessions gave us the opportunity to learn how our clients would use healthSwapp. We are now shifting to an automated on-boarding process with customer support as required.
I also co-organize an event, HealthTO, which brings together healthcare startups and healthcare practitioners. The event exposes healthcare practitioners to the possibilities of technology in practice while giving startups the opportunity to present their ideas. While the event is not focused on healthSwapp, we generate new business and introduce our product to new potential users.
You’ve opened up a huge breadth of skills required to run this business, which you mentioned you didn’t have experience in before (from video to drip campaigns). Sounds like a lot of it is learning on the go. How do you cope with seeing new problems and address these gaps?
It’s an exciting adventure that I’ve learned to embrace. Learning outside of my industry, accessing a breadth of resources through the DMZ (the number one North American university business incubator) and observing the growth of other companies has given me valuable knowledge. Pushing myself to be better, learning by doing and making (lots of) mistakes along the way has been the absolute best way to learn how to build a business.
“We need to get excited about all of the challenges we encounter on the daily.”
You create accessibility through your app – for example, when people aren’t able to afford more clinical, in person sessions. How do you feel that’s important to create for people?
I believe creating professional home exercise and education programs is an important part of my role as a physiotherapist. Paper handouts aren’t going to cut it anymore. We need to educate our patients about what they can do for themselves, but 70% of verbal information is forgotten by the time the patient reaches the parking lot. We need to give all of our patients an accessible home program that they can easily understand and follow. The evidence shows that those who follow their home program have quicker recoveries and fewer reoccurrences of injury, but they will also be forever grateful and refer their friends and family. Happy patients are worth their weight in gold.
“70% of verbal information is forgotten by the time the patient reaches the parking lot.”
You’re a relatively young founder – what’s the approach you feel you have in an industry like the medical industry, which has a lot of resistance?
We use technology to help make many aspects of our lives simpler and easier. The convenience that technology provides extends to every industry but healthcare has been slow to change. We are in an exciting transition and my generation has the opportunity to lead the way. In our personal lives we have experienced the benefits of apps, the internet of things, smartphones and more; however, we have yet to make this transition in our professional lives. As the co-founder of healthSwapp, I have seen first hand how difficult it is for healthcare practitioner to make the transition from paper charting, handouts and outcome measures to a more technologically-savvy solution. We need support, training and mentorship to effectively make this transition at the ground level where it will have the greatest impact on our patients and their outcomes.
I started HealthTO (the above mentioned event I co-organize in Toronto) to open the conversation about technology in healthcare. We, at healthSwapp, provide guidance and resources through our blog and in 2017 we will be starting a school for training healthcare practitioners on how to implement technology into their practices.
Future looking what does that move towards, and how do you see the app becoming adopted?
Our goal in 2017 is to have our app used in 50% of private physiotherapy practices in Canada. We are unique because we generate our content from experts in the field including course instructors. In 2017 we will also start to host full online courses from these course instructors. Healthcare practitioners in remote regions will be able to access high quality education without leaving their clinic.
Traditionally, healthcare has been slow to change. But, if practitioners wish to ride the wave of disruption and serve on the cutting edge of innovation, we will have to embrace quick change because like it or not patients are already digitized. It’s time we catch up.