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How 2 Young Founders Are Bringing Teletherapy to School Kids Who Really Need It

Teletherapy is growing, and these founders are out to help children in the most unexpected places.

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BY Brit Morse - 07 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Advancements in communication have revolutionized the workplace--including your doctor's office.

Enter, DotCom Therapy, a telehelp company founded in 2015 by Emily Purdom and Rachel Robinson. It partners with schools to provide speech therapy, occupational therapy, mental health and teleaudiology services. In other words, if you or your child has a communication disorder and you can't travel for therapy, this company's got you covered.

"Now is the time when everyone has a laptop, a tablet, a phone, and this is the first time in history when everyone's connected," says Robinson. "So whether you're living in Downtown Chicago or rural Alaska, you have a way of accessing this technology."

Staffed by a small army of 91 therapists with laptops at the ready, the Springfield, Missouri company took in roughly $2 million in revenue in 2017. With the exception of raising $250,000 from friends and family, Dotcom Therapy is self-funded--and during the first quarter of 2018, it became profitable.

"They've taken the telehealth approach to speech therapy and really standardized it in a way that no one else has done," says Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and one of DotCom Therapy's advisory board members.

An Urgent Call to Action

When the founders first met in speech pathology school in 2010 at Missouri State University, telehelth wasn't at all part of their curriculum. "It just was not addressed," says Purdom. "Telepractice, teletherapy, telehealth, those words were glazed over in grad school because everybody was afraid of telehealth; they thought you had to be in the room to really be able to have that relationship with the student or the patient or the client."

Meanwhile, those face-to-face interactions were wearing them thin, while costing their patients valuable time. Five years after graduating, Purdom was spending two to three hours a day driving to rural schools to treat kids with speech problems, while Robinson's wait list at an outpatient neurological hospital was nearing three months due to high demand. "You can imagine that if you have a child with disabilities or someone who suffered from a stroke, you want them to see a professional right away," says Robinson.

The final push came in 2015 when Purdom received an urgent message from a friend living in Thailand whose daughter wasn't speaking. She asked if Purdom could hop on Skype and give her some tips and tricks. After a few successful sessions, Purdom felt confident she could make teletherapy work for others. She and Robinson launched DotCom Therapy two months later.

Their first connection was a district in Alaska, desperate for help. "They said 'fly up here, see our kids and we'll see if between our visits we can do telehelth services,'" says Robinson. "We would take these little bush planes held up by duct tape and sleep on the floors of classrooms in rural Alaska. We'd be up there for about 10 days, fly home, and carry out all the services online."

Though not without its hiccups, the model stuck. Today, DotCom Therapy partners with schools in 28 U.S. states and seven countries. While their partner schools pay an annual fee that ranges depending on school district, individuals can also log on and pay for sessions by the unit. A 15 minute session, or one unit, starts at $30.

The Trouble With Telemedicine

While the industry expands, it faces a new realm of inefficiencies. A large portion of DotCom Therapy's patients rely on Medicaid, and in accordance with the State Practice Act, therapists may need to be licensed in the state in which a patient resides to provide care. Depending on the state it could take up to 30 days to get the right papers.

"It's a really big problem in telehealth in general," says Kraft. "You've got 50 different states, 50 different plans, with different licensure requirements, and it's made it very, very tedious."

DotCom Therapy's founders say they've removed insurance as a barrier by providing services at what they deem an affordable rate. "Patients can typically afford our products without it," says Robinson. "There are so many difficult variables across states that we've found that where we are right now, if we can disrupt the market by removing insurance from the equation, then that's a successful road for us."

That strategy speaks to Dotcom Therapy's plans for future growth: to provide everyone, everywhere access to therapy. "We take that pretty seriously," says Purdom. "When we look at our target market it's not just the U.S., it's global."

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