Meet Matt Booth, CEO of Physiobuddie, an innovative online therapy service. It provides users with remote step-by-step progressive rehabilitation, using a mix of expert help and video tutorials, along with text and picture-based descriptions and information. He talks about the challenges of building a healthcare business, the importance of funding, and having patients that are prepared to travel from Detroit to Hull…

Tell us about your innovation – what and why?
Alex (Co-founder of Physiobuddie) and myself started a physiotherapy clinic back in 2013, having spent a fair amount of time in sports medicine. We understood the need for progressive rehabilitation, really that’s our background, and we brought that into a clinic setting here in Hull and saw that grow from us being part-time to now a team of 13 phsyios. It’s quite a big operation with patients coming to us from the wider Yorkshire area.

Physiobuddie is built out of that clinical experience and enables us to provide patients with remote step-by-step progressive rehabilitation. Our online therapy service offers good accessibility and outcomes for patients, as well as reducing time spent travelling to appointments and the associated carbon footprint, which is really important as we try to support the greener NHS agenda.

What was the lightbulb moment?
In 2017 we had a man contact us from America about an injury; he’d seen us online and got in touch. He was a soccer player, based in Detroit and he actually came over for rehab. He’d scoured America for rehab solutions and had not got any better. So he came over for 2 months, we worked with him every day and got him back to professional sport. It was a very systematic process of stripping everything back and rebuilding him back up to where he needed to be.

It got the creative juices flowing in terms of what’s out there and could we have stopped him from having to come over, could we have engaged with him digitally – it’s a heck of way to travel from Detroit to Hull. And we talked to him and asked him if he’d done any research and he said “yes I have, there’s nothing out there.” So we started to look into digital innovation for physiotherapy ourselves and very quickly found that there was not much out there in terms of providing a user-friendly journey from point A to point B with progressive rehabilitation and checkpoints. The tech out there at the time was all very clunky. And that’s how Physiobuddie was created really.

We then did our own market research and due diligence and contacted the NHS and physios, and we interviewed a lot of patients who’d been through the NHS system to get their experiences. I also phoned physios up and down the country and asked if they were using digital and none of them were. It was very much still all about that famous piece of paper, that had served the purpose for many years but in 2020, 2021, we need to be using digital tech within therapy. When I pitched the idea to physios, they were like “you know that’s a really, really good idea”. A couple of hospitals had tried it internally but with time constraints it’s difficult to do.

From there the next step was to reach out to the AHSN Network and so, being based in Hull, we naturally went to Yorkshire and Humber AHSN. We pitched the concept to them, they said that from what they’d seen there was nothing else out there in the market and that was our green light moment.

We did things a little bit backwards though. Apparently from that moment what you’re supposed to do is go for grant funding and things like that but we’re doing that now. So what we’ve done so far has all been with our own money and backing. We’ve built a proof of concept and we’re looking to scale up now.

What’s been your innovator journey highlight to date?
Although it’s been hard work, it’s been very rewarding. As a physiotherapist you get to know physiotherapy very well, but to succeed in this sector I’ve also had to upskill myself to learn all the key terms and how the NHS infrastructure works, which you have no idea of when you first go into this. It raises a few eyebrows when you can say you’re a physio and then you can also talk using all the technical terminology. When people have a real appreciation of how hard you’re trying to work to get this out there is really rewarding.

How has KSS AHSN supported you?
Cliché or not, KSS AHSN has been instrumental. It’s been a really, really successful relationship right from the start – right through from the very first contact (with Athina, Technology Navigator), to talking with Nuala (Industry Engagement Manager) about commercial structures and our background. I think Nuala straight away saw the hard work and graft to get to this point. We were then introduced to Charlotte (leading the Technology Navigation team) who has been brilliant and made three introductions for us already which are looking really positive. The advice has been superb and at the minute we’re looking for a seed round to raise investment and Alastair (Technology Navigator) has been instrumental in helping with that.

I’m one of these people that I want everything done yesterday and the speed of the help from KSS AHSN has been rapid – for instance I asked Alastair and Charlotte for help with a bid to the NHS Innovation Accelerator and heard back within a couple of days which is absolutely fantastic. We also got superb exposure which being at the HETT show that was possible with funding from KSS AHSN. We’ve really accelerated through working with them.

What has been your toughest obstacle to date?
Time. Until recently we were having to run two companies at once. Nuala actually said to me there will come a point when you will have to run full-time with Physiobuddie and it will be a huge step for you, leaving everything you’ve known and stepping into this. And we did that a few weeks ago and that was a really tough decision because we’re still pre-revenue, we’re still small and early on in the journey but without driving this full-time it won’t get us to where we need to go.

Hopes for the future?
We want to effect change. That is our absolute mission statement – it’s not about the financials, not about the commercials, it always has and always will be about us being passionate physiotherapists. If we can be known as a company, amongst others, that has digitised physiotherapy throughout the world, that would be pretty cool. It needs innovation – there are some brilliant physios out there but there are so restricted with time it’s heartbreaking and we want to give them something that will change the world of physiotherapy.

A typical day for you would include?
It’s forever changing and I quite like that. It’s about reacting quickly to stuff – I’m very much an opportunist. I do like the gym, so I tend to get there for about half six or seven o’clock, do my exercise and answer emails from eight til nine which I do from the clinic. That tends to be followed by a few fair hours of meetings these days and at the minute, since going full-time, a lot of it is bid writing, tender writing, and applications.

What three bits of advice would you give budding innovators?
Number one, if you’re going to innovate, definitely look for grant funding first. It is out there and definitely the place to start – we’ve done it backwards.

Have an understanding of not just your innovation but all the stuff that comes with it, such as clinical safety and IG and all the terminology that comes with it.

And then just be prepared that, as my partner said to me, it’s going to take longer than you think. I said “no chance, we’ll get it rolled out within two years” – and that was two years ago. Early last year we couldn’t see the wood for the trees but I’m so happy that we stuck with it because of where we’ve got to now; so accept that it’s going to take time and keep going.


Find out more about Physiobuddie and follow them on TWITTER @physiobuddie1

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