Brett Adler, CEO and Co-founder of VoicePT, hurt himself during a poorly executed skydive landing the summer before starting college. He attended physical therapy sessions at school, but did not do any of his prescribed exercises outside of the clinic. He has been living with chronic lower back pain and range of motion issues ever since.

After college, Brett spent almost 30 years building software on computers with poor ergonomics and a lot of repetitive stress. By 2019, his shoulder and neck were so debilitated that he had to leave the startup he helped build because he could no longer use his right hand to program, or even respond to emails.

Brett eventually needed major neck and shoulder surgeries to regain full functionality of his right arm. Unlike his past experiences with physical therapy, he had to recover this time or he would not be able to work. So he tried something different. He built the first few versions of VoicePT specifically for his own recovery.

Once Brett realized how much VoicePT helped him, and learned that only 35% of patients complete their prescribed physical therapy programs at home, he was inspired to make his software available to anyone needing support doing their exercises at home. From there, he started to recruit others to join the team, including Co-founder and COO, and college friend, Debbie Schwartz, MPH, who, like Brett, also struggled to maintain a physical therapy regimen.

The practice of yoga is another inspiration for VoicePT, specifically in how it provides repetitive instruction. Other areas of interest that contributed toward VoicePT’s inception is Brett’s addiction to Amazon’s smart home technology and Debbie’s fascination in finding new ways to build and maintain habits.

What it does

VoicePT makes physical therapy simple, accessible, and convenient for aging adults so they can get stronger, keep moving, and remain independent.

Our hands-free, voice-activated digital assistant guides patients through every step of their prescribed home exercise programs, while motivating them to establish physical therapy as a daily habit. Using VoicePT feels like having your physical therapist in the room with you.

By simply saying “Alexa, start my physical therapy,” patients begin their personalized, voice-guided exercise programs where they receive reinforcement of proper techniques through tailored, individualized, and easy to follow instructions. Voice-activated physical therapy leaves their hands free to focus on the correct movements of each exercise instead of trying to awkwardly navigate paper images or stare at an app on their phone.

Accessible features include closed captioning for the hearing impaired and large fonts and images for the vision impaired. For those who have challenges with mobility, there is nothing to press and all exercises can be done while comfortably seated. And VoicePT supports visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Patients no longer have to rely on paper handouts with photo-copied text, small illustrations, and ambiguous directions.

With VoicePT, patients can complete physical therapy exercises whenever they want, wherever they want, and can use whatever device they want. Whether at home, work, outside, or even on vacation, VoicePT is available everywhere. VoicePT runs on all Amazon Alexa enabled devices, including TVs, tablets, smart speakers and displays, headphones, frames, and more. In addition, VoicePT is available through the Amazon Alexa mobile app on iOS and Android devices.

Using the VoicePT skill on Alexa helps patients improve their home exercise program adherence, which leads to better outcomes, faster recoveries, and less chance of injury recurrence. It works best when used in conjunction with in-person physical therapy visits.

In addition, VoicePT includes a web-based application for healthcare providers to manage exercise programs. Our software can be used by any healthcare provider that prescribes home exercise programs, including, but not limited to, orthopedic surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, chiropractors, neurologists, cardiologists, oncologists, and home care providers.

Doing physical therapy exercises is hard. VoicePT makes it easier.

VoicePT: We get people moving one voice at a time.

How we built it

It began with Brett using Amazon Alexa devices as timers while doing his physical therapy. What followed was a proof of concept Alexa skill using the “Personal Trainer” blueprint, which demonstrated the value of an Alexa skill for physical therapy, however, it needed more customization.

Brett then built a custom skill for Alexa using Voiceflow and Airtable as a database for data and image storage. A custom skill provided significantly more flexibility and features in the Alexa skill, but there were limitations with the Airtable back-end.

The VoicePT team then built a web-based application for providers to directly manage their patients’ exercise programs. All exercise images, company logos, and program covers are stored on Amazon S3. The Ruby on Rails web app runs on Heroku, which is powered by Amazon Web Services.

The current version of the VoicePT skill for Alexa runs on Voiceflow and our own web-based back-end.

Challenges we ran into

The VoicePT team experienced significant and frequent issues in getting our beta testers access to our skill. We eventually published it earlier than planned in order to continue our testing process.

We also experienced some formatting problems with the various device sizes and orientations. It would be helpful if the test screens in the Alexa Developer Console showed the border of the devices so you could more easily detect formatting issues.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Back in June 2022, we launched a beta version of our cloud-based web portal for healthcare providers that enables them to create standard programs for their practices.

Then in July 2022, we entered the beta stage with patients to test the effectiveness of VoicePT compared to paper, web, and mobile-based solutions.

And in August 2022, we certified and published our VoicePT skill on five English speaking Alexa Skill Stores, including English (US), English (AU), English (CA), English (UK), and English (IN).

We have been blown away by the immediate feedback we have received from several beta testers in the aging and disabled communities who have been using VoicePT to do their physical therapy exercises. In addition, both Brett and Debbie’s mothers are VoicePT patients and regular users of the software.

What we learned

Building a good skill is hard. It takes a lot of time to properly design, build, and test. While we have already received great feedback from VoicePT beta testers, we know that we will continue to be surprised and delighted with how they will continue to use the skill as we prepare for the official go-to-market launch of VoicePT.

We also discovered that there are other companies and individuals in the voice-tech and physical therapy space who see the same problems as we do with adherence to home exercise programs. We have been pleased to learn that they have been looking for a solution like VoicePT to complement their efforts.

What's next for VoicePT

The VoicePT team is currently beta testing the software with patients, providers, and others to prepare for several pilot studies that will evaluate the effectiveness of VoicePT compared to paper, web, and mobile-based solutions. We are also updating our branding, which will include the launch of a new website, enhancements to several social media sites, and initiating an email newsletter.

We plan to utilize more components of the Alexa Skills Kit soon, including reminders, account linking, shopping actions, and subscription purchases. We are also adding “Login with Amazon” to our web app, which will help patients more easily enable our skill. And we plan to use other AWS services in the future, such as Amazon’s Simple Notification Service for messaging as well as AWS for Health solutions in order to support HIPAA compliance.

We would also like to explore opportunities to deploy VoicePT within Amazon Smart Properties, including the healthcare and senior living areas. In addition, we are looking to integrate with Amazon’s Halo devices in order to provide more sophisticated engagement data and metrics. And we look forward to adding TalkGo’s TalkSocket as another easy way for aging adults to access their physical therapy exercises.

Finally, we plan to start raising money by spring 2023. We are looking at various healthcare and technology accelerator programs to help raise money and speed up our go-to-market timeline. Our plan is to expand upon our current team, continue to improve upon our software, and launch several pilot studies that will hopefully demonstrate VoicePT’s effectiveness.

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