Integrate technology — Technology is the driving force behind almost every modern industry, and health care is no exception. With collaborative, patient-centered care at the heart of the industry’s future, providers can no longer operate in silos. The need to communicate with other practitioners and access patient data in real time is higher than ever before. Interoperable technology provides healthcare professionals with the means to seamlessly collect, analyze and use data to track patient outcomes over time and create better care pathways. It’s also integral to improving the patient experience, helping deepen relationships by making it easier for providers to follow up and engage with patients. One thing to note — interoperability and uniformity are not one in the same. Small private practices shouldn’t be using the same behemoth EHR systems hospitals use. While interoperability is a must, identifying a specialized software system that works with your clinic’s workflows is equally important.
Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC — co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer 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 over 500 employees serving more than 83,000 members at 14,000 clinics. WebPT has earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for seven consecutive years — a feat that only 1.5 percent of companies achieve.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Heidi! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It all started with a knee injury I sustained while playing college basketball at the University of California, Davis. After a successful rehabilitation that allowed me to experience the power of physical therapy firsthand, I knew I wanted to have the same impact on others’ lives. So, I immediately switched my major to physical therapy. After graduation, I began a successful 15-plus-year career as a practicing sports physical therapist, culminating with my role as the director of a large multi-clinic practice in Arizona — which is where things began to shift for me.
While working as a clinic director in 2006, I was responsible for running the practice — and, of course, overseeing profits and losses. To improve my practice’s bottom line, I began poring over the expenses, and after identifying dictation and paper documentation management as two of the company’s biggest line items, I started searching for a more cost-effective solution. I came up empty-handed, underwhelmed with the technology available at the time. So, my co-founder — a seasoned technologist — and I decided to create a more sophisticated tool that would satisfy my business needs. Over the course of 18 months, we fine-tuned this solution based on feedback from my own staff as well as 10 other local practices that had caught wind of it and wanted to adopt it in their organizations. Not only did the clinicians like using it, but we also achieved positive financial results — so it truly was a win-win. At that point, we realized that we were on to something, so we decided to complete some market research. We were surprised to discover that 80% of therapists were still using pen and paper for patient documentation, demonstrating that my problem was actually prolific throughout the industry. In 2008, we officially launched WebPT, and I took on a new role as a tech co-founder.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most important parts of being a leader is recruiting and hiring the right people to execute on ideas, build great products, and organize operations — all necessary ingredients in the recipe for company growth. In the startup phase of a company, you don’t have money for recruiters, and you sometimes find new employees in interesting ways. In the early years of WebPT, I continued to work full time as a physical therapist while simultaneously growing the business. As a PT, you get to know your patients very well, and I often shared exciting news about my fledgling project and our needs in the business. I started to get referrals from my patients for their family members, friends, or colleagues who would potentially qualify for the open positions. My patient relationships essentially became my recruiting ground. In the first couple of years, at least 50% of our new employees came from my patients or their referrals.
From the beginning, we’ve hired for culture. Once we determine that a candidate meets the basic skills required for the available position, we then evaluate whether the person fits in with our company culture. I’m delighted with the fact that we took chances early in the company on some people who may not have been fully qualified on paper, but had the entrepreneurial spirit, grit, and drive to learn and be successful. We still have quite a few of those founding employees who have stuck with the company throughout our amazing transformation — from operating out of the back of a coffee shop to becoming the industry-leading, venture capital-backed software platform we are today. Today, the thing I remain most proud of as an entrepreneur and industry leader is the professional growth, financial stability, and career opportunities WebPT has provided to so many people and their families.
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?
I was a physical therapist before I founded WebPT. Starting on the clinical side of the industry allowed me to gain firsthand knowledge and insights about the trends and everyday challenges rehab therapists face. And it was the experience I gained as a physical therapist that fueled my desire to build a better solution for the rehab therapy community.
Since its launch, WebPT’s mission has remained the same: to empower providers and practice owners nation-wide to achieve greatness in practice, advocate for their profession, and embrace innovation as a means of improving patient care and fueling business growth. Today, WebPT is the fastest-growing rehab therapy software platform in the nation, with 40% market share and more than 83,000 members at 14,000 clinics.
In addition to my day-to-day responsibilities as WebPT’s co-founder and president, I remain a steadfast advocate of the rehab therapy industry as a whole. I’ve worked relentlessly to put the physical therapy profession on a national stage by driving technological advancement, supporting a patient-centered care model, delivering thought leadership, and mentoring young professionals who are entering the technology and healthcare fields. As a result, I was named one of the Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT by Health Data Management and became an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist for the Desert Mountain Region.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
From day one, WebPT has been committed to maintaining a people-first approach to business. This key component of our company culture has helped us differentiate ourselves from our competitors and remain a leader in healthcare technology. It wasn’t until years later that we discovered what we were doing actually aligned with the principles of Conscious Capitalism, a business concept that centers on treating all customers, employees, partners, and vendors as true stakeholders in the business.
We take the time to thoroughly understand the needs of the customer. Not only do we seek customer feedback through Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) surveys, but we also have our employees complete Member Moonwalks, during which they visit Member clinics and shadow some of our users. Both help us gain a better understanding of our users’ workflows, biggest pain points, and challenges and priorities. We then leverage their feedback to make our purpose-built software even more provider-friendly. By listening to our Members — and implementing their ideas — we’ve achieved 99% customer retention.
And our people-first approach extends beyond the customer level. To help our profession grow and gain the respect it deserves, we work tirelessly to help all rehab therapists understand the importance of advocating for their profession. Such efforts largely depend on access to reliable industry-specific data — and we’ve made it a point to compile this type information in our annual industry report. The State of Rehab Therapy report — which is based on results from our annual survey of several thousand physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and speech-language pathology (SLP) professionals — provides insight on the biggest challenges and perceived threats to the rehab therapy industry. WebPT’s goal is to get this mission-critical information into the hands of as many rehab therapy professionals and leaders as possible to encourage advocacy and catalyze impactful change throughout the entire industry.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
By pioneering the first cloud-based electronic medical record (EMR) for rehab therapists, we’ve helped lead a digital revolution that has forever changed the industry. The vast majority of rehab therapists have now adopted an electronic documentation solution, and we played a huge role in that transformation. But, we didn’t stop with documentation. Not long after launch, we built out solutions for scheduling, billing, and practice management. Later, we released HEP and outcomes tracking solutions. Most recently, WebPT made two significant acquisitions as well as several product rollouts that help rehab therapists tailor treatment plans, increase patient engagement, achieve interoperability, and ultimately, improve clinical results.
One of the biggest “pain points” our industry faces is that it’s often overlooked. Our determination to constantly innovate and advocate for rehab therapy is driven by the desire to demonstrate the power and value of the profession we serve. We want to make sure that the 90% of patients who can benefit from rehab therapy — and aren’t currently receiving it — have the opportunity to access this type of care and improve their quality of life as a result. We work to address these issues by leveraging the data we’ve collected over time to demonstrate to all healthcare stakeholders — providers, patients, insurance payers, and other healthcare entities — the value of our profession.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high-income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
This is tough to narrow down considering health care is such a complex and ever-changing industry. However, if I were to pinpoint the main areas we should focus on, they would be:
- High out-of-pocket costs — Today’s patients must shoulder an immense financial burden. In fact, according to WebPT’s State of Rehab Therapy report, high copays and coinsurances are by far the top-ranked regulatory issue in terms of impact to the rehab therapy community. Even for those who are insured, it’s not uncommon for patients with high-deductible insurance plans to pay up to $10,000 before their benefits actually kick in. To combat these rising costs, patients have begun to seek cash-based or out-of-network services to ensure they’re getting the most value for their dollar and receiving the highest-quality care.
- Barriers to access — There’s a lot that stands between a patient and the care that he or she needs. In our field, for example, despite the fact that some form of direct access to physical therapy exists in all 50 states, misconceptions around this topic run rampant. According to the aforementioned report, a quarter of rehab therapy professionals are not adequately informed on their state’s direct access laws. And confusion about these laws is just the tip of the iceberg. Recently, physical therapy has begun to gain traction as a legitimate nonopioid approach to managing musculoskeletal pain. However, patients remain deterred from seeking out physical therapy as a first course of treatment primarily because they are ill-informed on its benefits and how to access it. As a result, 90% of patients who could benefit from physical therapy aren’t currently receiving it.
- Lack of collaboration between payers and providers — We tend to view payers as enemies rather than focusing our efforts on helping them become our allies. By providing payers with patient outcomes data to justify cost, we can help increase reimbursement rates and support the creation of PT-first care paths — all of would help lower our patients’ out-of-pocket costs. In truth, increased collaboration may be the single most important factor in ensuring a bright future for our healthcare system.
- Lack of a true patient-centered health model — Similarly, there is a lack of focus on the healthcare “customer”: the patient. The system is designed around short-term goals, and the overall approach to care is largely reactive rather than preventative. This is especially true for musculoskeletal care, as the opioid epidemic has showed us. By using data, collaborating with providers and payers, and most importantly, working with patients to help them adopt a long-term perspective on their health, we can play a huge role in creating a healthier society.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Increase collaboration among all stakeholders — Point blank, the future of health care depends on opening the lines of communication between providers, payers, patients, and all other stakeholders. It’s easy for us to adopt an “us versus them” mindset, but the reality is that each of us is working toward the same goal: controlling costs and optimizing patient outcomes. Collaboration and transparency is especially top-of-mind as the entire healthcare community continues to move toward a patient-centered, value-based care model that makes patients — and the quality of care they receive — the main focal point. Today’s patients want connected care teams. They want their providers to partner with other practitioners if that means better outcomes and a reduced chance of further injury. The kicker here is having the necessary technology and interoperability framework in place to support that collaboration.
- Integrate technology — Technology is the driving force behind almost every modern industry, and health care is no exception. With collaborative, patient-centered care at the heart of the industry’s future, providers can no longer operate in silos. The need to communicate with other practitioners and access patient data in real time is higher than ever before. Interoperable technology provides healthcare professionals with the means to seamlessly collect, analyze and use data to track patient outcomes over time and create better care pathways. It’s also integral to improving the patient experience, helping deepen relationships by making it easier for providers to follow up and engage with patients. One thing to note — interoperability and uniformity are not one in the same. Small private practices shouldn’t be using the same behemoth EHR systems hospitals use. While interoperability is a must, identifying a specialized software system that works with your clinic’s workflows is equally important.
- Leverage data — It’s impossible to prove value without data. There’s been a significant push toward collecting outcomes and patient satisfaction data that demonstrates the quality of care your practice provides. In physical therapy, there are a lot of misconceptions circulating with respect to direct access laws, but the main takeaway here is that for specialists (PTs included), physician referrals aren’t going anywhere. To encourage collaboration between physicians and other providers, you absolutely must collect patient data and track outcomes to demonstrate the efficacy of your treatments and drive more patient referrals to your practice. No matter how you spin it, outcomes tracking supports evidence-based care, and therefore is the bedrock of value-based care. Collecting and sharing data is also crucial to furthering knowledge and developing actionable insights to help us solve major industry challenges (like the two below) and elevate care.
- Explore nonopioid approaches to pain management — Physical therapists are uniquely qualified to improve function and alleviate chronic pain. Physical therapy is also more cost-effective and safer than other treatment options, like surgery and prescription opioids. However, only 8–10% of patients who could benefit from physical therapy and other alternative approaches to pain management actually seek it. This is in part due to confusing insurance requirements and an overall lack of awareness about rehab therapy. Again, the key to solving this problem — and making a considerable dent in the raging opioid epidemic — is increasing collaboration.
- Address the burnout syndrome — Burnout has been on the rise for years, and recently, the World Health Organization classified it as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress. Although common among many professions, burnout is especially prevalent in health care. Increased regulatory pressures, decreasing reimbursements, and the loss of valuable facetime with patients are all contributing factors. And it’s not just isolated to physicians; providers in other specialties are also feeling the effects of burnout, causing many to consider significant career changes. In fact, the 2019 State of Rehab Therapy found that more than 50% of rehab therapy professionals are contemplating making a change. Open communication and data sharing can help healthcare professionals work together to address this major concern.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
Advocate, advocate, and did I say advocate? There’s nothing more powerful than leveraging your industry knowledge to effect long-term change within your profession. At my company, we act within the tenets of conscious leadership and have championed a “rising tides raise all boats” approach to business. Our goal for advocacy is to look beyond our product offering and empower the professionals we serve to demonstrate their true value. We do this by offering top-notch education as well as collecting and distributing mission-critical data on the trends and challenges that will shape the future of our industry. This approach also helps open up the lines of communication between all industry stakeholders, which is of utmost importance to the US healthcare system (as mentioned above). As with anything, you get what you put in. Making a more concerted effort to support your industry through advocacy will only strengthen your entire ecosystem.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
The book Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia has had a profound impact on my thinking, my leadership style, and my business. 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. Even as WebPT has grown, we’ve strived to maintain a flat organizational structure, not letting hierarchy get in the way of communication or collaboration. Another core tenet of Conscious Capitalism is serving a deeper purpose, which we’ve done since the beginning of WebPT.
As far as podcasts go, here are a few of my favorites:
- Planet Money: As any leader knows, you must keep a pulse on the world outside of your industry. Not only does this podcast keep me up to date with the world economy, but it also makes finance seem fun (which is not always the case for me).
- Good Life Project: I’m a big Brené Brown fan, and her episode is one of the podcast’s most notable. Much of her focus is on exploring our vulnerabilities and recognizing their power. Being vulnerable as a leader does not come naturally for most people; however, it’s something that I have embraced, and it has definitely helped me become a better leader.
- Evidence in Motion: This one helps keep me in touch with the physical therapy industry. Led by Larry Benz with the Practice Leadership podcast and John Childs and Jeff Moore with the Clinical podcast, EIM keeps me informed on what’s relevant and important to other PT industry leaders. Staying in tune and ahead of our customers (all of whom are rehab therapy professionals) has been a pillar of our success, and this podcast provides insights to drive my strategic thoughts and ideas.
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