In this interview, Laura outlines how her career in allied health led to her founding her own startup, Theratrak, a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.
- What interests you most about the allied health sector?
I’ve worked as a paediatric occupational therapist for the last 8 years and every day is just such a privilege and a joy. I get to work with kids to support them to achieve their functional goals. Whether that’s building skills so they can make their first friend, improving their fine motor skills so they can learn an instrument and join a band or overcome anxieties that might be holding them back from participating in a family meal.
The allied health sector is such an incredible space to be in because we are able to support people to live as independently as possible by either working with the person to modify their environment, teach them the skills to do the task or advocating and creating a more accessible experience. I believe this sector plays a big role in the preventative model of healthcare and when we use the model we can help people to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.
- Why did you launch Theratrak?
I started Theratrak for many reasons. The first was because I was frustrated with an outdated and inconsistent healthcare system that meant my clients weren’t able to remember what we had spoken about in therapy and therefore struggled to implement therapy strategies outside of the clinic.
I also know that we have a workforce shortage of allied health practitioners, waitlists only seem to get longer and so many kids miss out on early intervention at the right time because there’s just not enough of us. I believe that parents and carers can be the best support for their child’s early intervention process and if technology can support them to feel more confident and supported with what they are doing at home then that is what technology should be doing. Theratrak is designed to support both the clinician by improving their workflow, saving them time and creating easier avenues to connect and communicate with their clients. Theratrak is also designed to support parents so that, hopefully, we can reduce the amount of time kids spend in therapy, reduce the cost of healthcare to these families and support kids with the right amount of access to early intervention so that they can live their most independent life.
- What has been the biggest surprise since launching the business? How does this differ to what you were anticipating?
There have definitely been a few. Very early on one of the big surprises was how much kids embraced technology in therapy sessions and weren’t distracted by it. I had some reservations about what therapy sessions might look like if therapists pulled out a phone and used to record photos and videos of the kids with the app. I was worried that the tech might take over the session and that it would distract from the therapeutic relationship. I could not have been more wrong on so many occasions, kids and parents seem to really embrace the tech in sessions, I see kids getting excited that we are taking images of them and using them to build a bespoke and customised home program. I even had one client ask me to refilm something so that he could have a practice and do it better to show his mum.
The other big surprise which has been such a great learning curve for me, but how many similarities there are between occupational therapy (OT) and starting a tech startup. In OT we look at a functional problem for a person and then break the task down to either teach the skill, modify the task or modify the environment to allow the person to be able to solve the problem. I see this time and time again when we are building features for the app, we come up against a problem, break it down and either add new features, modify old features or change the user experience to solve the problem. I think I didn’t expect to have so many soft skills that I had learnt as an OT that would apply to being a tech startup founder.
The last surprise and I’m sure it won’t be the last, is just how many people we have the potential to help with the platform. I started the journey with the idea that I would create a home programming app for paediatric OTs and that would be my target audience. However, along the journey, I have realised that the same problem exists across all areas of allied health, both from discipline and age, it’s exciting to know that we can potentially help so many people and our reach and impact can go so far.
- How are you seeing the allied health sector adopt new technologies and digital capabilities?
It’s definitely getting better that’s for sure. I think previously there have been many factors that impact people changing their behaviours around technology. Tech burnout in the health sector is a huge issue, I’ve spoken to many practitioners who are fed up with old clunky systems, or they’ve hacked their way around an old system so that it fits their workflow and so many times they didn’t know that they could approach the technology companies and ask for the help to solve their problem. The other challenge is time, time to learn new technology is crucial. Clinicians need to feel confident with the tool they pick up before they are going to use it with their client, if they aren’t given enough time in training it can be very hard to even start the process.
However, COVID has been an incredible accelerator of this process for therapists, as much as it was tricky, many therapists had to learn about new ways of providing care early on in the year and I think there was a lot of grace given by clients who were also learning how to use tech in healthcare. I definitely think we are on the right path to digitising healthcare, especially with younger clinicians who seem to expect technology to be part of the healthcare system and are often confused when it’s not.
- How has the pandemic impacted Theratrak and your plans for 2021?
Yes, we’ve seen a definite impact, but a positive one which is great. At the start of the year in 3 months we grew our user base by 500%. I think the pandemic had clinicians looking for alternative solutions to provide care and home programming was at the top of everyone’s mind.
We also have expanded to other areas of allied healthcare this year. At the start we were mainly focused on occupational therapy, we then found speech therapists and physiotherapists were jumping onto our platform and wanting to work as multidisciplinary teams with their clients.
So we are now in the process of expanding Theratrak so that it is a multidisciplinary platform so that teams of therapists can work collaboratively with their clients, gain better visibility about what they have prescribed and hopefully better outcomes for their clients as well.
We also became HIPAA compliant in April and now have a few US therapists on our platform. The goal was to expand to the US next year but the pandemic just seems to have accelorated most of our goals. Now our plans for 2021 are to find another large enterprise partner to continue to build theratrak with us and expand further into the US, maybe even Europe at this rate as well.
About the expert
Laura Simmons is the founder and CEO of Theratrak: a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.
Therapists use the mobile app to create custom therapy programs and send them within the clinical sessions, saving time. Parents also get access to the app for free, they receive automated nudges throughout the week to stay on track and send feedback to their therapist about their progress. Finally, therapists can also use the clinic portal to customise the platform to meet their therapeutic treatment styles.
Laura is also a passionate paediatric occupational therapist and has worked across Sydney’s private health sector for the last eight years. Laura is passionate about supporting the digitisation of healthcare to improve global access to early intervention for children living with disabilities. Laura launched her start-up journey entering into one of Australia’s leading tech accelerators for female founders SheStarts in January of 2018, launched the first version of the app, raised a pre-seed round and had her first paying customers within a year of starting the company. She also won the inaugural Australian Artificial Intelligence Medicine (AIMed) shark tank award in 2020.
Image description: Photo of Laura in a children’s playroom. There is a colourful alphabet-themed playmat on the ground, climbing equipment and a rainbow tunnel through which a child is excitedly crawling. Laura is sitting at the end of the tunnel watching the child, smiling, and wearing a black t-shirt and black pants.