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Freedom from Pain: Success stories from SWORD members

Whether it’s riding a bike, avoiding surgery, or eliminating the need for opioids, virtual physical therapy can help people live pain-free. At SWORD, we take pride in helping our members return to the health and lifestyle that they aspire to.

Watch our video below to see just a few examples of how members have been able to find a new lease on life with SWORD.

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Physical Therapist Testimonial: Lauran D., “If you don’t give patients tools that empower them to keep going, they’re just going to keep on coming back”

At age 14, Lauran suffered an injury to her ACL that required physical therapy. From that moment on, she decided physical therapy was what she wanted to do: “I thought ‘Oh, I can help people, that’d be great’. So I consulted with my sister [who was studying occupational therapy], but she told me I would have to work on my communication skills too, because I was super-shy [laughs]”.

Since that moment, Lauran’s life has revolved around making other people healthier.

From College Sports to Workers’ Comp

In college, Lauran volunteered with the basketball and soccer teams, partly as a way to overcome her shyness. But make no mistake, these weren’t your run-of-the-mill college teams – this is the legendary Lady Vols and SEC tournament winning soccer teams we’re talking about.

As a part of the team, she went on a trip to North Carolina, and she found the state so beautiful she decided to apply to (and attend) Duke University to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

After college, Lauran started working at outpatient clinics, and eventually focused on workers’ compensation cases because they aimed at “trying to help people get better faster to do the job they need to get on with their lives, and I like that approach”.

We asked Lauran what had brought her to SWORD after twelve years working in clinics: “[SWORD] was completely different. It was very technology-based and technically I’m a millennial but I didn’t grow up with technology, so I knew I would be expanding my boundaries. It would challenge me.” That’s our kind of people.

A Brave New World

One of the things Lauran enjoys the most about SWORD is that “It facilitates patient independence. Given the research and my years of experience, what I realized is that no matter how good your hands and your skills are, if you don’t get compliance from the patient and you don’t approach them empathetically, they’re not going to get better. And if you don’t give them tools that empower them to keep going, they’re just going to keep coming back and create a dependence which shouldn’t be created. I want people to think of me when they get injured but I don’t want them to have the same injury and keep coming back to me.”

Self-confidence plays a big role in the patient’s recovery. Lauran is adamant about this: “[Sometimes we have to tell patients] “You know, just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s hurting you” and give them a sense of security in movement, because people build their anxieties and their fears and they want to have somebody there saying ‘Yes, I saw what you did’.” SWORD has a big advantage on this end: “I wouldn’t be able to do that in a clinic because I would never be able to see what they could do and measure it.”

Her first experience with the Digital Therapist was quite baffling: “Of course you know there’s people that do research and they can put sensors on and identify movement. But turning that into something that can be offered to a large mass of people, [something] that physical therapists can follow and see ‘Oh, my patient’s not being able to do this’… It eliminates measurements on the PT’s side, because it tells you right there how much patients are able to do. It makes my job a little easier and it gives me more data than I would have in a clinic, and that’s helpful.”

Change you can act upon

When Lauran decided to join SWORD, she was taking a course on clinical blind spots: “ It was pretty much the science behind what we would typically see in a musculoskeletal patient, particularly in low back patients.” The course focused on challenging physical therapists’ ability to interview a patient and see things as they see and perform cognitive behavioral therapy.

As Lauran puts it, “we’ve focused our profession on hands-on approaches and getting people better that way. But then we realize that, number one, the research doesn’t prove that that’s the most effective way with some people and, number two, that trying to fix people isn’t the only thing that’s needed, you have to try to get them to change and modify their behavior so they can achieve a lifetime of function and not just a period of function.” SWORD’s approach was a perfect fit for what the course was teaching her.

But there’s a little more to it: “You can get as educated in a topic and challenge yourself as much as you want to, but in the end [a therapy like SWORD’s] is very reliant on me doing what I’m learning instead of just saying ‘Oh, yeah, I went to that course’. I actually have to apply what I got from it.”

A doer with a challenge-oriented mindset? She definitely had to be one of us.

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Member testimonial: Monica, “The evolution is completely different”

Monica is a P.E. teacher and an all-around fan of sports. She’s the kind of person that can’t just stand still: she fidgets around all the time, like a runner at the starting line waiting for the whistle to be blown.

 

Given her connection to sports, Monica had already had physical therapy a few times. She is a knowledgeable user of physical therapy, for good and for bad. When she hurt her shoulder on a car accident and had to undergo surgery, she knew what she was up to.

From disbelief to relief

After surgery, Monica was in a lot of pain and she had to hold her arm still. “The physical therapy center was a few miles away from home, and I would never step into the bus or the subway with my arm hurting like that.”

 

Then her doctor told her about SWORD Digital Therapist. “At first I found it odd: I was used to conventional physical therapy, so I thought an approach like this could never work. But then I tried it and I figured it was really cool.”

Monica says that the most significant difference for her is the fact she is continuously monitored, “the evolution is completely different.” Furthermore, she quickly understood that the exercises she had to perform brought some relief to her pain. “Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because of the pain, so I got up at ungodly hours and started exercising (…) The best part of my day was the therapy; it actually relieved my pain”.

Laughing her way through recovery

Monica has just finished her program. The first thing she asks about when we visit her for this interview is the physical therapists that accompanied her during her time with the Digital Therapist: “How are they doing? I have to invite them over for dinner”.

 

Her relationship with the physical therapists that monitored her recovery was unique. Monica took the Digital Therapist with her on vacations and sent over pictures of her performing the exercises by the pool. At a certain point, one of her prescribed exercises required her to lift weights. She once used a bottle of wine as a weight and sent a picture to her mildly astonished but utterly amused physical therapists.

 

Life is slowly going back to normal, Monica has just rejoined her indoor football team, and she went back to walking her huge, lively dogs. She’s catching up with her life.

 

Her initial expectations for the Digital Therapist were quite low: “I thought I was just going to play with a tablet.” Her opinion about it has changed a lot in the past few weeks: “This is unlike anything I have ever tried. And believe me, I should know, I have tried everything.”

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Member Testimonial: Antonio A., “If I ever undergo another surgery, I’ll demand to use the Digital Therapist again”

Antonio runs a busy life. When we called him for a 6 pm interview, he asked if we could make it quick because he had to leave for work. António is a waste collector, and heavy jobs like his don’t comply with nine-to-five schedules.

 

Antonio spends his nights hopping on and off a garbage truck, so things looked quite dim when he had to undergo knee surgery. Antonio relies on his knees to perform his job quickly and effectively, up and down from the truck again and again for eight hours in a row.

 

On top of that, Antonio lives 30 miles away from the physical therapy center he was supposed to attend. “The insurance company would cover the costs, but I would still have to go back and forth, I’d easily spend three hours a day for one therapy session.”

 

Antonio didn’t want to waste his precious time, so he decided to use it more wisely. As he puts it himself “I could take the time it would take me to have just one session in a traditional therapy facility and have three physical therapy sessions with the Digital Therapist.

“It was way better than traditional physical therapy”

Antonio is the ultimate SWORD Health champion: he had sessions on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

 

We talked to Antonio almost one year after he started treatment and he is assertive: “It was way better than traditional physical therapy. Even now, almost a year after I finished treatment, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have gone better. I could have therapy more times, at home, I didn’t have to move around.”

 

Antonio is not a tech-savvy guy, but when we warily wondered about how easy it was for him to adapt to this tech-driven approach to MSK care, he laughed and quickly said “I had no problem at all, it was easy to use. (…) I didn’t feel the need for more support from the physical therapists. The device was built to replicate their presence, and they could adjust the sessions whenever they needed.”

 

Thrilled as we were to learn that, we wanted to know if the recovery process ever got lonely. Antonio’s quick answer is reassuring: “I felt [my physical therapists’] guidance throughout the entire process, they were and still are available,” even almost one year after the program came to an end.

 

It must really be the case because running, the hobby Antonio had dropped after knee surgery, is slowly being picked up under their guidance: “They advised me not to rush it, so I’m taking it slow, but I’m back on the running track.”

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Physical Therapist Testimonial: Sara L., “This is not a job. It’s a cause”

Think of the stock photo version of a physical therapist. The kind smile, the reassuring eyes, the trustworthy expression – that’s Sara.

Sara left her family, her hometown, and 10 years of work behind her to join our team because “I had been working within the pattern for many years and I realized that was not enough for me. SWORD is bold and I needed boldness in my life”.

Sara can’t stand still: she recruits and trains our Physical Therapy teams in the field and launches SWORD Therapy’s clinical operation within partner institutions. Nonetheless, she still manages to fit patient sessions into her tight schedule because “my patients are my people”.

Having Sara with us is a product of sheer chance. When she was working at a physical therapy center, one of her patients wanted to complement the traditional Physical Therapy he was having with SWORD. Sara wanted to be there for her patient’s first session and when the session started she couldn’t believe what she was seeing: “I couldn’t mask my awe. I was there as a spectator, but I couldn’t help but say “This is it. This is exactly what needs to be done, this makes complete sense”. I stayed in touch with the team and they eventually reached out with an invitation to join SWORD Health.”

 

I wanted to make a bigger dent in people’s lives

There never was a shadow of a doubt: “I had been [at my former job] for ten years, I had made the changes I thought were fit, my mission there had been accomplished. I work with a sense of mission, of purpose, and with SWORD I could make a bigger dent in people’s lives”. The size of that dent is Sara’s measure for success, or as she puts it, “I care about this company’s success not out of a desire for pride or wealth but because that’s how I know we’ve reached millions of patients. That’s all I care about”.

Sara isn’t only determined, she is also very rigorous. From the recruitment process (“We ditch a lot of excellent physical therapists because they don’t have the human fit we are looking for”) to patient enrollment (“Patients don’t get days off. They must have therapy on bank holidays, on weekends, on vacations – it’s for their own good. But because they are doing it at home, there always has to be someone on the other side of the line in case they need us”), Sara holds everyone involved in the recovery process in a loving but tight grip.

We have moved past the leap of faith phase, now we have hard clinical evidence

Another example of Sara’s dedication is the gallery of people she has converted to SWORD’S innovative way of doing physical therapy, be them doctors, patients or fellow physical therapists.

Her conversion methods adapt to her audience: with physicians and physical therapists, she uses hard evidence and participant reports (“They are always a little wary but as we start recovering the first, second, third patient, they start believing in what we do and become involved”).

With participants, the process is a little harder: “You can have a protocol for everything but people and some people think they’ll never be able to do this. In the first session, people always say “I’m never going to be able to memorize all of this”. And I tell them “The thing is you don’t have to. The Digital Therapist guides you through every step you take, all you have to memorize is how to turn it on.” We’re treating people here, it’s hard enough as it is for them, they are not supposed to have to learn a new skill to be treated.”

Think about the stock photo version of a physical therapist again. Now tell us if this isn’t exactly the answer you’d hope to get for the question “What’s the best part of your job?”: “I love it when they call me months after they finished therapy and tell me “Sara, I’m doing fine! How are you?””

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Member Testimonial: Jose A., “I sometimes even answered back to the Digital Therapist”

Jose leads a painting unit in a factory that builds buses. He’s responsible for painting thousands of buses a year, and he lives up to that responsibility with a humble smile. The only time a smack of anguish taints this interview comes when he talks about the 130 people he leads: “Many people, many families depend on me,” he says, “and this is why I had to come back to work as soon as possible.”

 

Jose is a chipper, lively 58-years-old guy who had to undergo two hip replacement surgeries in one year. So when one of our physical therapists approached him before his first surgery to explain what SWORD Health’s digital therapist is about, he quickly overcame any doubts he might have:
“I had already had traditional physical therapy before. I had to rush out of the office, deal with the traffic and find a parking space. [When I finally started therapy] the therapist would come over, tell me which exercises to perform and then leave to check on another patient. I didn’t even know if I was doing the exercises correctly.”

MSK care made easy

SWORD Health was a no-brainer for Jose: “I could leave work at 7 or 7:30 pm” and still make it in time to have therapy at home. Persistent as he is, he continuously tried to beat his records and, even if he had evening arrangements: “I would leave at 10:45 pm so that I wouldn’t miss a session”. It came to the point that he started bickering with the digital therapist, “but she always ended up being right.”

 

So when the time came for the second hip surgery, “I called Sarah [his physical therapist] and said: “I need my left leg to recover as well as the right leg did.” It was an amazing recovery; even my doctor said I should get a gold medal for hip surgery recoveries.” It must really be the case because the medical board that evaluated Jose’s ability to go back to work was astonished as well.

 

Jose had medical permission to go back to work one and a half month after surgery, an absolute achievement. Jose knows his perseverance played a crucial role in his recovery: “I felt a huge responsibility towards myself and you guys. Compliance is essential. (…) It’s one thing to do the exercises; to do them correctly is an entirely different thing. This [feedback] is why I found your product so interesting. There is no doubt it was really helpful to work with SWORD Health.”

 

Jose started working at age 13, and he comes from a generation that didn’t get as much formal education as the younger people working with him. Someone a little less kind-hearted would probably belittle the relevance of formal education in favor of their personal journey, but Jose sees it as an advantage: “I always tell my team to learn from our experience but also to integrate whatever knowledge they have acquired to make our work better.”

 

This love of progress is part of the reason why he felt so compelled to work with us: “I’m used to working with innovative projects and people, so I fully embraced [SWORD].” Lucky us.