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Female Disruptors: Heidi Jannenga has shaken up the way therapists care for their patients

Early in my career as a physical therapist and clinic director, I came across this quote: “Spend more time on your business rather than in your business.” As a therapist treating patients, I struggled with finding time to dedicate to the business side of running my clinics. I became a physical therapist because I loved […]


Early in my career as a physical therapist and clinic director, I came across this quote: “Spend more time on your business rather than in your business.” As a therapist treating patients, I struggled with finding time to dedicate to the business side of running my clinics. I became a physical therapist because I loved to treat patients — that was my passion — but in order to really grow my business and help more patients access the care they needed, I had to also devote time to marketing, optimizing operational processes, and understanding the underlying metrics that were driving my business. Doing so made a big difference with respect to my effectiveness as a leader — and our bottom line. As a result, I realized that I had the opportunity to help even more people and empower my team to be more effective in their roles.


I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC — co-founder and president of WebPT, the market-leading rehab therapy software platform. Prior to co-founding WebPT, Heidi practiced as a physical therapist for more than 15 years, and has since led the company through exponential growth. Today, WebPT is the fastest-growing rehab therapy software in the country, with 500 employees serving more than 83,000 members at more than 12,000 clinics. WebPT has earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for six consecutive years — a feat that only six percent of companies achieve.


Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

As the daughter of immigrant parents, I have a very diverse background. My father was a naturalized citizen from Austria and my mother is a first-generation Japanese American born in Hawaii. My dad was a research scientist who specialized in horticulture, and my mom was an elementary school teacher. They passed their passion for education on to me. I received straight A’s throughout school and lettered in multiple sports, including basketball and volleyball. In college, I was on track to pursue a medical career — or so I thought when I entered my freshman year at UC Davis on a basketball scholarship. After suffering what could have been a career-ending knee injury my junior year, I was introduced to an amazing physical therapist who not only helped me return to playing my sport, but also got me interested in the PT profession.

After changing my major, I went on to earn a master’s degree — and later, a doctorate — in physical therapy. I practiced for more than 15 years and became a respected sports medicine specialist, treating professional, college, and high school athletes. In 2006, I was the director of one of the largest sports medicine practices in Arizona — and it was there that the concept for WebPT was born.

Why did you found your company?

While working as the director of a multi-site clinic, I had profit and loss responsibilities with bottom-line revenue goals. I discovered that dictation and transcription were two of our practice’s biggest expenses, so I began looking for a more cost-effective solution. As it turned out, there was no technology on the market that was PT-specific and web-based that fit our clinic’s needs. Faced with the choice to either adopt a sub-par system or build our own, I chose the latter.

After completing market research, my co-founder and I realized that 80 percent of physical therapists were still documenting with pen and paper — and, with increasing regulatory changes, continuing to do so over the long term would be challenging. That’s when we knew we’d stumbled onto something big. Ten months later, we had a beta product, which we started using in my clinic — testing it, gathering feedback, and making improvements.

Shortly thereafter, in February 2008, we officially launched WebPT — the first web-based EMR designed specifically for PTs. We sold to five clinics the first month, and in the 10 years since, we’ve become one of the fastest-growing EMR companies in the country, garnering close to 40-percent market share. The reason I’m so passionate about WebPT — my “why” for embarking on this journey — is our mission to empower rehab therapists to achieve greatness in practice and ultimately, deliver better care to their patients.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As I mentioned, the vast majority of rehab therapists (80 percent) were still using pen and paper for documentation when we first introduced WebPT. Since then, we’ve completely disrupted the way rehab therapists document, schedule, bill, report analytics, track outcomes, and manage patient relationships — and we provide these capabilities all within one integrated platform. Today, roughly 80 percent of therapists are using an EMR or EHR to document.

In addition to disrupting the rehab therapy field, specifically, our work has been disruptive in the larger healthcare landscape. Healthcare reform initiatives — including those aimed at reducing costs and improving patient care — have opened up opportunities to innovate in interoperability, data collection, security, and the patient experience. We’ve challenged the status quo and played a key role in increasing collaboration among rehab therapists and providers in other disciplines across the healthcare continuum. We are helping to raise awareness about the value and cost savings that rehab therapists provide — especially for patients with musculoskeletal injuries or pain.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

There have been so many people who have helped me along the way, but my lifelong mentor has been my dad. He raised me in a household of tough love and respect. He also taught me to embrace a strong work ethic and be curious and inquisitive about this world. He showed me what it means to willingly — and consciously — make sacrifices for others. He stressed the importance of understanding yourself, embracing who you are, and leveraging education and leadership skills to achieve your goals. Plus, both of my parents ignored traditional gender roles for my brother and me — in terms of their expectations of us and their perception of what we could accomplish. This manifested in everything from our chore assignments to the careers we eventually chose. 
 
 Beyond what my dad directly passed down to me, his life and accomplishments have profoundly inspired me as well. He achieved so much in the face of adversity. He immigrated to the US from Austria and became a naturalized citizen. He worked his way through school and was the first in his family to earn a PhD. He then went on to become a world-renowned citrus scientist, employed by the US Department of Agriculture. His drive toward academic and professional achievement has inspired and pushed me to new heights in my career.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Innovation is a core focus for us at WebPT, and as such, we’re working on some exciting additions to the platform that will further support rehab therapists in shaping the patient experience, deepening engagement, and achieving interoperability. We also are working to combat the opioid crisis by helping to improve access for patients who are suffering from musculoskeletal pain. Research has shown that patients with low back pain who receive early care from a physical therapist have a 75–90 percent chance of never needing opioids. We want to make sure that the 90 percent of patients who can benefit from rehab therapy — and aren’t currently receiving it — have the opportunity to access this type of care and achieve the best possible outcomes.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Know yourself; the guidance to develop deep self-awareness has stayed with me over the years. Specifically, learn your strengths and your limitations, but keep the focus on the good stuff. By harnessing your true power, you can blow the cap off of your capacity, be truly authentic, and build the right network to offset your weaknesses.
  2. Early in my career as a physical therapist and clinic director, I came across this quote: “Spend more time on your business rather than in your business.” As a therapist treating patients, I struggled with finding time to dedicate to the business side of running my clinics. I became a physical therapist because I loved to treat patients — that was my passion — but in order to really grow my business and help more patients access the care they needed, I had to also devote time to marketing, optimizing operational processes, and understanding the underlying metrics that were driving my business. Doing so made a big difference with respect to my effectiveness as a leader — and our bottom line. As a result, I realized that I had the opportunity to help even more people and empower my team to be more effective in their roles.
  3. This last one is not so much advice, but a quote by Maya Angelou that I find profound: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I’ve carried this with me throughout my career and personal life, and it has always proven to be true.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

Firms of Endearment by Rajendra Sisodia has had a profound impact on my thinking, my leadership style, and my business. Essentially, it was the first book to show objective research proving that culture really does make a difference in a company. In fact, conscious companies with passion and purpose profit more than most S&P 500 companies. It’s about embracing the “we” and not the “me.” It’s about making everyone involved in your business — customers, employees, vendors, board members, and the community — true stakeholders.

This approach has helped unite our entire team around our shared mission of empowering rehab therapists to achieve greatness in practice; it gives meaning to our work and inspires us to put our hearts and souls into doing right by our people every single day.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Michelle Obama. She’s contributed so much to women in STEM and has inspired and activated so many women to make an impact in their industries, communities, and families. I know she’s on her book tour, but I’d like to know what’s next and what truly inspires her.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @HeidiJannenga

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heidijannenga

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us.

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