East Liberty firm's app keeps physical therapists in touch with patients
Staying in contact with patients is essential for Murrysville physical therapist John Bonaroti, but it isn't always easy.
Bonaroti says people increasingly aren't answering the phone, returning messages or responding to email when he tries to follow up on their progress with at-home exercises or about appointments.
They will answer text messages, though.
“What we've found in the last couple years is we've just gotten fewer people answering the phone or returning a voicemail message,” said Bonaroti, who owns the multi-therapist practice East Suburban Sport Medicine Center. “But we get almost instantaneous response to texts.”
That's a trend Hability, an East Liberty startup technology company, is banking on. Hability co-founders Adam Nelson and James Lomuscio are marketing a Web-based service that manages and streamlines communications between physical therapists and their patients, primarily via texts.
Physical therapy has one of the worst compliance rates in medicine, said Lomuscio, who is Hability's CEO. Nelson is chief operating officer.
Only about 30 percent of patients do their assigned exercises at home with any regularity, which can slow or derail the recovery process, Lomuscio said.
“A lot of people miss an appointment and don't go back,” he said. “Or a patient starts to feel better and doesn't finish the full course of treatment. ... Physical therapy has a horrible compliance problem.”
Lomuscio, 24, and Nelson, 27, expect to begin recording sales this month as four physical therapy practices start a test run of Hability, which they officially began in October after graduating from AlphaLab, a South Side incubator for tech companies.
Bonaroti is one of the participants in the three-month test. He's already texting patients from his personal smartphone but welcomes a service that would help him be more efficient by automating the follow-up messaging to make sure his patients stay on track with exercises, show up for appointments and get their questions answered quickly.
That kind of communication builds a relationship, which is key for retaining patients, he said.
“Competition (for patients) is extremely keen, and we've found that relationships are what keep patients around,” he said.
Lomuscio and Nelson estimate there are 40,000 private practice physical therapists, many of whom could benefit from Hability.
“We believe some simple customer service techniques would go a long way,” Lomuscio said.
The company has been financed by several local executives in the health information technology field, but Lomuscio declined to name them or how much they've invested.
Hability got its start in a seemingly unlikely place.
Lomuscio and Nelson initially wanted to help people develop better habits around money and developed a financial planning app, DropKicker.
The app tried to get people to change their behavior using games, but the idea didn't gain traction with potential investors.
The team heard about the trouble many medical professionals have in keeping patients on track with therapies, whether it is taking a full course of antibiotics, going for an annual doctor's visit or keeping up with prescribed exercise.
They said they decided to focus on physical therapy because the compliance rate was very low and because it was an area of health care where a mistake wasn't likely to cause serious harm.
“No one was depending on us for life-saving medicine,” Lomuscio said.
Lomuscio said he expects the company to branch out into other areas, such as dentistry and occupational therapy.
“Physical therapy was the first beachhead because of the accessibility of it,” he said. “But any area of medicine where a long-term relationship is important (can benefit).”
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.