Developing Communication Between Therapists and Health Care Providers

1/18 Pratt School of Engineering

Duke Engineering’s new Product Lab gives students experience while helping local software startups take the next step toward commercialization

theralinq logo
Developing Communication Between Therapists and Health Care Providers

Brennan Barber had enough. For half of a decade, he and his wife had worked tirelessly to provide their son every opportunity to reach his full potential. Having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, his home care routine was a constant stream of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and feeding therapies.

And the quirks of the insurance and health care industries weren’t making things any easier. Notes for at-home exercises were typically handwritten and coded for insurance companies. Therapists weren’t getting timely and detailed information about progress being made. It was easy for all parties involved to lose track or get confused.

Brennan Barber with his son.

“It became apparent that there was no easy-to-access centralized platform to manage his therapy care plan or provide therapists feedback,” said Barber, head of business development for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. “So, I began developing a concept for a platform to provide better outcomes quicker for children receiving a variety of therapies.”

Working in his spare time, Barber put together a bare-bones prototype for an app called “Theralinq” that could beta test his idea of streamlining the entire experience. With a relatively basic task management tool, the app could provide more direct access and ownership to a child’s at-home care plan and allow therapists to get better feedback from caregivers, track patient progress and enable better reporting.

“It became apparent that there was no easy-to-access centralized platform to manage his therapy care plan or provide therapists feedback. So, I began developing a concept for a platform to provide better outcomes quicker for children receiving a variety of therapies.”

Brennan Barber
Theralinq Co-Founder

While the initial version was a good starting point and proof-of-concept, Barber knew he needed help further developing Theralinq into a potential product. Having earned his MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, he was familiar with the school’s consulting practicum, and thought perhaps there was a similar program where computer engineering students could directly assist a company—in his case an early-stage startup.

On a bit of a whim, he reached out to Duke Engineering to ask if such a program existed. That’s when he learned about the school’s new Product Lab program.

Real-World Experience, Real-World Impact

Housed in Duke Engineering’s Christensen Family Center for Innovation (CFCI), Product Lab gives students the opportunity to get hands-on experience with every aspect of the product management process. From leading projects along the product journey to using the latest tools to wireframe custom designs and user experiences, students are thrown directly into the fire from day one.

Working with real-world clients both within and outside of the school, Product Lab also provides an opportunity to make an impact on the world.

“Lots of creators put together a basic prototype of an app that shows real promise, but then don’t know where to go from there,” said Issac Park, adjunct assistant professor at Duke Engineering and director of the Product Lab. “We work with a diverse set of clients to get their products to the next level while also providing students with an invaluable learning opportunity.”

We work with a diverse set of clients to get their products to the next level while also providing students with an invaluable learning opportunity.

Isaac Park Product Management Director

Throughout the year, small teams of students are paired with a startup that needs help getting its app to bigger and better places. Over the course of three to five weeks, the team interacts with clients on a regular basis while working in a design sprint to quickly produce a minimum viable product, or an MVP, that can then be tested by potential users.

Karen Wang
Karen Wang

Each project presents different challenges. Some require more direct coding work while others are more of a design experience with tools such as Flutterflow, a low-code platform that helps quickly create functional apps. For Theralinq, the work was more of the latter. Leslie Gologh, a graduating master’s student in electrical and computer engineering and CFCI product management fellow, shepherded the project with the two-student team of Karen Wang, a junior majoring in applied math and computer science, and Natalie Aramendia, a junior studying computation and design and social policy at Duke Kunshan University, constantly checking in with the founders along the way.

“The entire experience was surprising. I was especially surprised by how much we were involved,” said Bethany Darragh, a pediatric therapist who worked with Barber’s family and is now one of the startup’s co-founders. “I expected an initial meeting or two, but we met with the team twice a week for the entire project. I was also surprised by how quickly they had something to show us that resembled what we had in mind, and by how well designed it was from a user interface perspective.”

“I was also surprised by how quickly they had something to show us that resembled what we had in mind, and by how well designed it was from a user interface perspective.”

Bethany Darragh
Pediatric Therapist and Theralinq Co-Founder

Sprinting Toward the Hand Off

Wang is interested in working in software engineering or product management when she graduates and has been busy gaining experience in multiple facets of both while at Duke. After working on an initial design sprint earlier in the year that involved computer vision and artificial intelligence, she was excited to get an opportunity to work on a project with more of a design focus.

“Getting to actually make an app gave us more product ownership,” said Wang. “We got to make more decisions about how the product would turn out and then actually put it on my phone and test it out.”

screenshots from an app
Screenshots from the Theralinq MVP demo created by the Product Lab

Over the course of five weeks, Gologh, Wang and Aramendia met at least twice a week with the Theralinq founders. After scoping the project, the team fleshed out the app’s wireframe, conducted interviews with potential users while using a mockup, and worked back and forth with the founders to make tweaks. The final two weeks were mostly spent on Flutterflow developing the final product to demo for Barber and Darragh.

Over a quick 15-minute video conference, the students walked the founders through their ready-to-demo product through both the therapist and care provider point-of-view. Clicking through the virtual app, Wang showed off how therapists can submit multiple repeating tasks complete with details and descriptions to care providers, who can report back on their progress while keeping track of what they have and haven’t taken care of through the weeks between visits.

“I would definitely participate in another design sprint in the future. It’s a great way to learn about local startups and different industries and apply creative thinking skills to a good cause.”

Natalie Aramendia
Junior in Duke Kunshan University

And the only design standard or starting point the students had to go on with was the logo.

“I learned a ton about how tools like Flutterflow are used to create MVPs and how to prioritize the most impactful features so the app can be quickly rolled out and tested with users,” said Aramendia, who plans to pursue product design and product management after graduating. “I would definitely participate in another design sprint in the future. It’s a great way to learn about local startups and different industries and apply creative thinking skills to a good cause.”

For the Theralinq team, the process has been equally valuable. After getting the demo version handed off, they’re working on a beta testing round to measure user engagement and gather insights on how to prioritize features they still want to add. They’re working to make the app completely HIPAA compliant and hope to be in a position to hire an intern in early 2024 and a product developer by the end of the year. And they’ve recently added Matt McDonnell, former director of engineering at multiple tech companies in the Seattle area, as their CTO.

“Our long-term goal at Theralinq is to change the landscape for families going through the therapy process,” Darragh said. “So far, much of the tech designed for this space has the ultimate goal of reimbursement. If we create one product with the goal of outcomes and connection, then we are chipping away at the systemic problem.”

Christensen Family Center for Innovation

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