July 11, 2024

New technology from Silicon Slopes allows you to skip the physical therapist’s office

New technology from Silicon Slopes allows you to skip the physical therapist’s office

Kyle Spackman calls himself a “walking statistic” illustrating that not all surgeries work. He’s had two back surgeries for musculoskeletal problems. He remembers struggling to fit physical therapy appointments into his work schedule.

“I was fighting with every other working person to get the 5 p.m. slot,” Spackman said. “That was the last one I could get on my way home.”

Spackman is now a senior vice president of an international company — with it’s U.S. headquarters based in Utah — that helps patients access better physical therapy on their own time.

Sword Health developed wearable technology with sensors that monitor patients’ movements during physical therapy workouts, prompting patients to correct movements when needed and collecting data that is shared with a patient’s physical therapist.

The company, which launched its software in the U.S. in January 2020, is rapidly growing. Just last month it collected more than $163 million in investments. Sword is now called a “double unicorn,” meaning it’s valued at more that $2 billion.

Sword deserves the attention it’s receiving, said David Politis, publisher and editor with Silicon Slopes, a nonprofit group focused on technology-based entrepreneurship in Utah.

“I think the idea they’ve hit upon is not only fascinating — it’s brilliant,” Politis said. “The service that they’re providing both for consumers and for businesses is spot on.”

How it works

With Sword, there’s no need for scheduling. Any time patients are free, they can hook up their sensors and follow the routines on their tablets. The software program sends the information to a physical therapist, who can then change the program as needed.

Last Christmas, Spackman said, about half of Sword’s patients logged in to take a therapy session.

Wearing sensors, Sword Health patients and their doctors can determine how well they are completing their exercises from home.

“It’s by design that it’s on your own,” Spackman said. “It fits into your lifestyle and your schedule.”

The therapist will monitor the data collected by the sensors and message with patients to alter programs as needed.

“The secret sauce is not necessarily the hardware,” Spackman said, “it’s the algorithms themselves that take data from the hardware and fuse it together and then deliver that back to the patient.”

Sword sends the tablet and sensors to patients, so all they need is WiFi access to start a physical therapy program. If the patient doesn’t have WiFi, Sword will even send them a hotspot, Spackman said.

Sword is primarily provided as an employment benefit, much like a health savings account or retirement fund. More than 150 employers, including local companies like Health Catalyst and national companies like Pepsi Co., offer Sword to their workers.

“Employers want to do it because it saves them money on their health care costs,” Spackman said. “It also allows for the member to be at work, not having to leave for their physical therapy appointment.”

There are no immediate plans to sell Sword services directly to consumers, Spackman said.

Planting roots in Utah

Sword has seen skyrocketing growth since January 2020 — from 20 corporate customers at the end of the first year in the U.S. to 160 by December of the second. Spackman attributes that, in part, to the pandemic and its emphasis on social distancing and telehealth.

“It dramatically sped up the adoption by employers and health plans of digital solutions,” Spackman said. “We could have timed our market launch better, frankly.”

Founded in Portugal, Sword Health has about 300 employees, most of them in the U.S., but plans to double in size in the next year, Spackman said.

It’s office in Draper is already “bursting at the seams,” he said. The company plans to remain in Utah even when it moves to a new building. Many of Sword’s employees — more than 100 of whom are physical therapists — can work remotely, but sometimes meeting in-person can boost productivity or creativity.

Staying in Utah lets Sword draw from a technologically talented workforce, particularly in Salt Lake.

“We have this audacious mission to save two billion people from pain,” Spackman said. “We need all sorts of talent, be it here in Salt Lake, be it national. We need talent.”

Sword’s funding round — its third investment round in 12 months — helps Utah entrepreneurs as a whole, Silicon Slopes’ Politis said.

“Every time that an entrepreneur or businesses or organizations are successful in raising money, that means they’ve attracted the people who have the purse strings,” Politis said. “Every time that happens it … puts Utah more and more on the roadmap.”