Women of Industry: Emily Purdom and Rachel Robinson’s technical breakthrough

Through live videoconferencing, the co-founders of DotCom Therapy now provide speech therapy services to thousands of students that otherwise would be underserved.

Emily Purdom spent much of her time traveling between appointments across 15 different schools. Rachel Robinson worked at a rehab clinic with three-month waiting lists to see a speech therapist. Even with a critical shortage of therapists to provide speech therapy, the former graduate research partners at Missouri State University knew there had to be a better way to serve patients.

Through live videoconferencing, the co-founders of DotCom Therapy now provide speech therapy services to thousands of students that otherwise would be underserved. The service is the foundation of their new Madison-based health technology startup, and about the only thing they cannot do during a videoconference therapy session is give their patients live high fives. They have to settle for the virtual kind.

However, there is nothing virtual about their reach or the potential number of settings in which they can deliver speech therapy services, and this new approach is the reason they were selected to be part of the 2017 Women of Industry class.

Removing barriers and stigmas

Their cloud-based technology ensures that all therapists, patients, and onsite implementers really need is adequate technology and internet connections, and like other “telehealth” features, it removes location as a barrier to service, as well as the stigma of needing certain services.

According to Purdom, while therapists can do pretty much everything during a videoconference therapy session that they do in a face-to-face visit, they have to get creative about how they perform the services through this platform. “That physically involves the utilization of someone onsite to facilitate the sessions, but that person onsite is typically with the student or individual throughout the day anyway,” she explains. “So it’s an added means to provide education and hands-on training to that person who is in the child’s environment.

“The skilled therapist is performing the services through the platform, utilizing an onsite implementer when needed. Together, it’s a really great team approach.”

At the moment, DotCom Therapy primarily is working in schools, but Purdom and Robinson also are piloting the service in clinic settings and performing home-based services, as well. Since they utilize an easy, cloud-based platform, most of the time their patients already have access to adequate technology and internet connections.

Through the use of technology, Robinson believes that more is gained than is lost. Therapists can share documentation, materials, and notes while using the child’s educational environment. “The things that you lose are the ability to give them a high five, but we do virtual high fives and they seem to be just as excited about those,” Robinson notes.

Within the field of speech therapy, Robinson says 40% of services are provided in the schools. Other than schools, homes, and clinic settings, they also would like to provide the service in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, which need this type of telehealth service.

Motivating factors

In addition to the provider shortage, the health care industry must consider a patient’s ability to access specialists when implementing telehealth services. The fields of speech therapy, occupational therapy, and mental health are highly specialized, and Robinson believes that people deserve to access the clinicians that will most help them succeed. Telehealth removes that location barrier so that even hospitals and clinics that have a full staff can benefit from opening up the provider pool to include therapists across the country.

Purdom adds that in all industries, consumers are looking for ease of access and convenience, and the telehealth model provides that. “The feedback we’re getting is that it simplifies the process of finding a therapist for many of our schools, and the kids really enjoy accessing services through technology,” she notes. “It’s a medium they are very familiar with, that they are engaged with. It’s very motivating and we’ve seen them make incredible progress because of this innovative way therapy is being provided.

“Also, because of the use of the technology, it can break down barriers of stigma for people to access services, and that’s especially relevant for some of our older students accessing mental health services.”

For the students, “they are able to access services through a medium that they love,” Robinson adds, “and they are able to work with a therapist that really understands what they are going through.”

DotCom Therapy’s “value-add” is making existing services more robust by offering therapy services to help a patient progress. “When we’re looking at these services,” notes Robinson, “we have multiple stakeholders. Every stakeholder responds in their own way but each appreciates the positive impact that it provides.

“Our therapists are happy with this medium because they are able to stay home instead of traveling the majority of the day. They are able to do more of what they love, which is working with students. We have onsite therapists who benefit because they no longer have to deal with incredibly high caseloads. If they need to take time off, they are able to rely on their DotCom therapist to handle that caseload.

“We have directors of special education who feel they finally have the resources to be able to best meet their student’s needs and fill those minutes with a qualified speech therapist.”



Why Madison?

Purdom, who is from the Branson, Mo. area, and Robinson, who grew up in Minneapolis, first met as graduate research partners at Missouri State University, located in Springfield, Mo. They decided to set up shop in Madison and make it their new home because of its commitment to building a robust health IT sector.

“We chose Madison because it has access to so many resources that are incredibly vital in growing a health technology startup,” Purdom explains. “There is access to incredible talent, mentorship, funding, and the community is so welcoming here as opposed to other startup communities. We’ve seen a sense of teamwork to really put Wisconsin on the map in advancing health technology, and we really want to be a part of it so we dove in and we moved up here.”

Robinson, who says her twin sister “was a Badger,” was more familiar with Madison. “Being from the Midwest, we wanted to stay in the Midwest,” she states. “In the short time we’ve been here, everyone has been nothing short of supportive and amazing.”

The honor

For Purdom, the Women of Industry recognition is an honor and an opportunity to advance their mission and for people to hear the story of DotCom Therapy. “It means that we have an opportunity to speak on behalf of the therapists that make our mission possible and really advocate for advancement in health technology and advocate for a service that is incredibly needed. We’re just honored to be a part of this.”

Robinson cites the lack of female-owned health and technology companies. “As a leading woman in business, I think it’s an honor to represent this sector,” she states. “With a therapist’s background, it’s an honor to be recognized as a business leader. We’re just happy that we got this. It’s exciting.”

Read the rest of our 2017 Women of Industry features:

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