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Winner Spotlight: Your New Physical Therapist Is a Friendly Parakeet

Dena Levitz Headshot

Dena Levitz

Challenge Cup Reporting Fellow, 1776
Challenge Cup 1776

A piece of paper with poorly drawn diagrams of at-home exercises is often all that patients get to guide them through the arduous physical therapy process after major surgery. Keet Software is determined to change that.

The patient engagement platform is digitizing the at-home therapy experience. It has a reminder system to alert patients when they must do their exercises, videos to demonstrate how and a feedback loop with their physical therapist to boost accountability. For physical therapists, Keet’s product is designed to decrease the time they spend manually logging paperwork about patients.

Jon Read, founder of the Austin-based startup, created the system in response to his own experience enduring physical therapy post-surgery. Keet Software was the Austin Challenge Cup health category winner, meaning Read advances to compete in Washington D.C. at the Challenge Festival. Here, he gives the company’s backstory.

First of all, let’s talk about your startup’s name. Your last name isn’t Keet, and according to the dictionary, a “keet” is described as a young guinea fowl. Why name your company that?

I actually did not know that [about the guinea fowl definition]. It was really just short for “parakeet.” In the initial concept of the company, it was the idea that you’re being reminded to do something that, chances are, you don’t like doing. We wanted to separate the provider from that experience of always reminding the patient. We’d have this parakeet who was your friendly companion through your therapy process, so when you got mad for getting all of these reminders, you would take that out on the character and not the provider group that was sending you all of the reminders.

I like the idea that you have a companion through this process. Anyone going through any kind of injury recovery process can understand there’s a lot of negative emotions—the uncertainty if you’ll be healed again, the uncertainty associated with the injury, the fear that I’ve damaged myself permanently. We want to use the voice of the program to communicate that if you follow these measures, you are going to be in a good spot and heal. Accidents happen but we’re going to get you back together again. A parakeet is a fun way to do that.

As you said during your pitch, this came out of a personal pain—very literally—when you had shoulder surgery. What were the holes that you discovered in the physical therapy process?

Prior to this, I started my career building out systems for insurance brokerages.  I transitioned from that into building out training applications for them. While I was doing that I was in a motorcycle crash in Brazil and had to have shoulder surgery. One of the investors in the previous company was a Tier 1 surgeon. I went to his facility [for treatment] and it was fantastic with top quality care. At the end of it they handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘This is how you’re going to heal yourself.’

To further complicate things for me, at the time, the meeting schedule I was on; they’d say, ‘We need you to come in on Thursday,’ but I’d be in Barcelona, and after that I’d be in London and then San Francisco. So I’d have to tell the doctors, ‘I’m not going to be here for another month.’ And they said, ‘That’s not how this works,’ but that’s how it had to work for me. It became critically important that I did my home exercises. … For some reason I wouldn’t remember to do [my exercises] until I was in my car, and it’s very difficult to do physical therapy in a car.

I had to remind myself of times that worked for me —right as I got out of bed and before I went to sleep a night. I walked myself through the exercises in a video format, because if anyone’s ever looked at these exercise sheets, the pictures make it very difficult to discern what you need to do. It’s very top of mind in the clinic, but when you actually get into the home it seems that all of the instruction goes out the window. So [with Keet] we want to capture that in videos. And then I put in an accountability engine, so every time I didn’t do what I should be doing I was sent a notification to the therapists that said, ‘John either did or didn’t do his exercises today.’

And then I tried [this system] with friends. One of my close friends who is a fantastic spinal-cord-injury mentor really opened up my eyes to the spinal-cord-injury opportunity. Having done a number of spinal-cord-injury events while on the insurance side of things I just have such a love and respect for people in that community, so to be able to help them [via Keet] was wonderful.

As a result, right now you have two big target users: spinal cord patients, as well ACL surgery patients. Spinal cord cass are very complex, while ACL ones are more straightforward. How do you look at these two groups?

Right now it’s about data and who will benefit most from [Keet] on a patient and provider side. There are fundamental aspects similar to everybody. We’re asking therapists to do a lot more with less time and less money. That’ll be the same for very therapist and type of case. For patients, they’ll all do exercises at home. What we wanted to learn is, in a spinal cord case, which is way more complex and customized to the individual, how much impact could we have here, versus ACL, which is more understood and templated?

We’ve gotten some really excellent thought leaders in to help improve the product. So now what we have is really an outcome-driven solution to help people heal, not one-size-fits-all, which is all that’s out there right now.

What’s your traction been so far?

We’re working with some of the top-tier health providers in the nation and really focused on their brand of therapy, helping them to take what they’ve developed and digitize it. We remove this big stack of papers they have associated with an ACL protocol or a spinal cord injury, and we push that out to patients in a streamlined fashion, collect data back more easily and have access for the first time ever to data in the home. We’re taking thought leaders in the space and then scaling out what they’re doing to providers who are not thought leaders.

Between now and the Challenge Festival, what progress do you hope to achieve?

We’re just gathering more and more clinical data. We want to show three keys: better patient outcomes, better patient satisfaction and lowered overall costs in each of these therapy events. That’s all we’re thinking about. We just want to show the impact that this system has. The data that we’ve collected, it’s very promising. To now [be involved in a] clinical trial format, where it’s really free of any tinkering from our hands, we’re super excited to see what comes from that. At the core of this, to have an impact on the patient experience is what drives us every day.

Dena Levitz Headshot

Dena Levitz

Challenge Cup Reporting Fellow, 1776

Dena Levitz is traveling to almost all of the Challenge Cup cities to cover the competition and analyze startup ecosystems around the globe. Dena joins 1776 after finishing the first…