Telemedicine pivot: Remote monitoring for PT targets overweight patients with back pain, plans LA launch

A telemedicine startup that developed a platform to do remote monitoring for physical therapy patients with pre-diabetes has broadened its focus to include overweight patients saddled with lower back pain and knee pain caused by tissue strain and inactivity. eWellness has also decided to launch its platform in Los Angeles instead of New York after […]

A telemedicine startup that developed a platform to do remote monitoring for physical therapy patients with pre-diabetes has broadened its focus to include overweight patients saddled with lower back pain and knee pain caused by tissue strain and inactivity. eWellness has also decided to launch its platform in Los Angeles instead of New York after Blue Cross Blue Shield of California agreed to reimburse for the service, something that’s proved to be a challenge for many telemedicine services.

When we spoke with eWellness CEO Darwin Fogt last summer, the company was poised to launch its business in New York through a partnership with Millennium Healthcare and file documents for an IPO. In a phone interview, Fogt said the company had decided to launch in California, Los Angeles in particular, in the first quarter of this year. But plans

He said one obstacle the company encountered was that it “had never received a good read on the legality of physical therapists providing physical therapy through telemedicine.” He added that relocating their operations closer to where the CEO and CFO lived made the business more manageable.

Fogt pointed out that while it had broadened its focus to lower back pain and knee pain caused from excess weight, it would include patients diagnosed as pre-diabetes as well.

“We’re not preventing diabetes and obesity, we’re helping to fix lower back and knee pain,” Fogt said. “The low-hanging fruit is still the pre-diabetes and obese population, but we can attack all the different populations for PT,” Fogt said. He explained that the company planned to eventually expand its platform to include patients prescribed physical therapy to help recover from orthopedic procedures, such as hip and knee replacement surgery and other procedures.

When patients are referred to eWellness, a physical therapist and assistant will evaluate patients for the program. The goal is to ensure compliance, reduce BMI to a healthy number, help patients lose weight and boost their activity level for the six-month program.

Patients can access a series of progressively difficult workouts in 40- to 45-minute videos from home. They use a unique log-in from an application, which will securely store all their data over a six-month period. When patients log on, it triggers a camera in the physical therapists’ remote office.

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Teams of four physical therapy assistants supervised by a senior physical therapist will monitor patients to ensure compliance. A remote physical therapist watches in real time while the patient is performing the exercises and guides him through his exercise sessions. The therapist provides constant feedback, instruction and motivation and ensures patients are doing the exercises properly and safely. The supervising therapist can speak to the user or communicate through text message.

A recent pilot of the telemedicine platform called Phzio included two men and six women aged between 33 and 56 years old over an eight week period. Six were based in Los Angeles and two were based in Louisiana. Three were recruited from Craigslist and the rest were friends or family. The goals for each were to gain physical strength, stamina, balance and to lose weight. Several patient lost roughly 15 pounds, according to the study.

Fogt said the next step would be to conduct a larger study of 100 patients over a six month period to produce meaningful data that would increase the likelihood for reimbursement for Medicaid plans.