Telespine brings digital health treatment for relief of low-back pain

By: Curt MacDougall Wednesday November 25, 2015 Tags: Telespine, Mark Barnes, Innosphere, Mike Freeman, Catalyst, Denver Health Medica


BOULDER -- Is it possible to alleviate low-back pain with the push of a button?

A Boulder-based digital health provider thinks so.

As a doctor of physical therapy, Mark Barnes has spent more than 20 years in clinical practice. In 2006, he started a company called Treatment Exchange, what he calls the first outpatient orthopedic tele-health platform in the world.Mark_BarnesUSE

“We were enabling patients when they left the physical therapy office with an online portal to get access to their therapeutic plans, text-message their provider, have video conferences, that sort of thing,” Barnes explains.

During his years in practice, though, Barnes came to recognized a trend. “The majority of people we saw were complex spine in 2013 we pivoted the company and created Telespine, focusing on lower back pain but still using digital health applications along with health coaching.”

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, low-back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability, affecting about 80 percent of adults at some point in their lifetime.

“What we know is that for 96 percent of sufferers, it's mechanical low-back pain,” Barnes says, “which is a problem of strength, posture and activities throughout the day.”

And Telespine addresses those issues via digital health technology, what Barnes refers to as 'push-button care.'

“At the push of a button, inside the application, you gain access to a heath coach who's going to get you immediate help so you can feel better right away,” he explains. “Then, in the background, we have an eight-week physical therapy program that's delivered through a digital health platform to your app.”

This also includes health literacy articles, advice and other help with the program, not only through live-messaging with a health coach, but video consults as well.

When a patient logs in, they are presented with a playlist of video tutorials – each week they get three sessions of videos, chosen with assistance from their health coach, that are delivered on a scheduled basis into their personal portal.

The program is designed to guide patients through activities that go from recovery to more corrective exercises and eventually to more mobility and dynamic movement exercises.Telespine_logoUSE

Wearable sensor technology can serve as another tool, allowing the firm to monitor a person's participation. That not only makes it easier to provide the proper guidance, but also helps patients stay motivated.

“If we see someone's activity has fallen off, we can send a nice reminder, give them easy access back to a health coach and keep them on track,” Barnes notes, adding that the firm may be teaming up with a wearable posture sensor company called Upright in the near future.

And when compared to a typical 'brick-and-mortar' physical therapy clinic, Barnes says the cost of treatment at Telespine is substantially less.

“In a retrospective look at 1,700 patients using our program in lieu of standard 'PT' care, we were able to reduce office visits by 21 percent, get better outcomes than traditional physical therapy by 28 percent, and all in half the time.

“That's what individuals are looking for in this whole digital health movement these days,” Barnes continues. “Patients want access to better care, reduced costs and significantly more value for their dollar.”

Mike Freeman, CEO of Innosphere, echoes that sentiment. “I've come to understand that patients prefer alternatives to surgery, the cost and recovery, and that's what's exciting about Telespine. It gives people a direct alternative to that and it's professionally managed by people who understand how to handle low-back pain. And doing that on a digital platform -- to me, that's what's impressive about the company.”

Impressive enough that the Fort Collins-based incubator chose to sponsor Telespine, one of the first digital-health companies that Innosphere has backed. Freeman also likes the fact that the firm has the capability to easily reach under-served populations.

“If you look at Northeast Colorado, for instance, where you might be hours from the metro area and orthopedic services, how does the health system take care of those customers? So we're exploring rural health applications with them right now.”

As Barnes puts it, “Digital health is exploding, and for good reason. I think Colorado is on its way to being a national leader in the field.”

With Telespine as an active player.

The firm is currently working with Denver Health and the University of Colorado, looking at ways to incorporate digital health into larger health systems.

And a relocation is expected in about a year that should keep Telespine front-and-center in the movement, according to Barnes. “We're going to be a tenant at Catalyst, the new digital health campus being built in Denver's RiNo district.”    

At Telespine, the key to success is the company's unique marriage of high-tech and low-impact.

“The therapeutic program we provide offers simple, easy behavioral changes that have the most meaningful outcome for your back health,” Barnes says. “It's really about cost, access and convenience.”

Curt MacDougall

About the Author: Curt MacDougall

Curt MacDougall's journey has been a little like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. From media representative to marketing coordinator, freelance writer and television news producer, the road has never been boring.

And through it all, there was the need to communicate effectively, whether it was writing jokes for one of the highest-rated morning radio shows in Detroit, website content for a civil engineering firm, Dave Barry-esque musings in Michigan’s second-largest daily paper or scripts to feed the insatiable news machine. Click here to visit Curt MacDougall's blog