For Lindsay Watson, founding Augment Therapy feels like destiny.
Lindsay is the daughter of a tech entrepreneur. Tech, though, was not the immediate focus of her educational pursuits. From a young age, Lindsay gravitated toward healthcare, especially medicine, as she was driven to help people. She considered medical school, but had some trepidations about the demands of the physician’s life, as she wanted to have a life outside her career. In physical therapy, Lindsay found she could get the best of both worlds, being able to help people while still having a rich family life of her own.
With these aims in place, Lindsay earned a BA in psychology and physical therapy at Ohio University. She then went on to attain a Master’s in physical therapy at Andrews University. She’s been practicing as a physical therapist for two decades, with a special emphasis on pediatric care for 17 years. During that time, she and her husband have had two sons and a daughter and have made a happy life in Cleveland.
While her family life flourished, Lindsay’s professional life left something to be desired. She was, in her own self-assessment, a “good” therapist, but she had never thought of herself as the most skilled therapist. While most physical therapists focus on certifications and techniques, Lindsay emphasized connection with patients and efficacy of practice. She was chiefly concerned with patients’ experience of care. At times, this experience struck her as tremendously lacking.
One occasion stands out. Between appointments while working in an outpatient setting, Lindsay stepped out of her office and into the waiting room. Here she spent several long minutes watching the families of children in physical therapy. The families looked worn-down and haggard. They had expended all their resources just to be there, and they usually brought along at least one restless extra sibling. While Lindsay felt intense compassion for these families, she also felt a measure of guilt. At the end of the ensuing therapy session, she was going to assign them homework. And most likely, the family would feel guilty if they couldn’t complete the homework. Indeed, research shows that 65% of home exercises assigned by physical therapists are not completed. In this way, Lindsay felt complicit in these families’ hardships.
This tangle of emotions swirled up into a distinct feeling that nagged at Lindsay time and time again. If I could multiply myself, she often thought, I could help this family and child better.
But how could she “multiply” herself? The answer, it turned out, was in her DNA, or so it seemed. It was in the memory of her late father.
The answer was tech.
Running on what she describes as a “fire in the gut”, Lindsay did extensive research into technological innovations that could enhance physical therapy.
Lindsay’s research took her down three paths. One path was the gamification of health care—that is, turning physical therapy into a game. Another was telehealth, long-distance healthcare by telecommunication. The third was remote monitoring, the science of supervising and controlling software from afar. Via a series of “light-bulb moments,” Lindsay put the three approaches together, recognizing that these technologies in combination could hold the secret to improving the experience of physical therapy and enabling access to it.
She promptly started a company with the idea that she’d synthesize gaming, telehealth, and remote monitoring for the advancement of physical therapy. She advocated doggedly for this combination, to such an extent that she felt like the “crazy-lady” touting this trifecta of technologies. At first, she had difficulties finding a sympathetic ear. Physical therapy has something of a technophobic streak due to its intensive focus on procedures carried out by hand.
Then came the ultimate light-bulb moment. Lindsay found a medium capable of bringing these three elements together. That medium is augmented reality, or AR, the interactive experience of a real-world environment. What if children could do their exercises in a virtual world depicted on a TV screen in the comfort of their family home?
Lindsay knew she had the solution for improving PT, but now she needed someone with the tech know-how to implement her vision. Through a college friend, she chanced upon meeting Steve Blake, a veteran programmer based in New Hampshire. Steve checked every box: he’d worked with VR and AR and, perhaps most importantly, he’d already designed software that was made for kids first. Steve saw Lindsay’s idea as eminently doable, and, with a passion matching hers, made it a reality.
Together, Steve and Lindsay worked toward the first prototype for Augment Therapy. Through the magic of Augmented Reality, Augment Therapy transports its user to a lush, interactive world brimming with games, exercises, and explorations, all designed with the goal of motivating kids to complete their therapy requirements. Augment Therapy is a game for the patient, but for the therapist, it’s a powerful problem-solving tool. Soon enough, Steve had an early prototype in place, and Lindsay looked to share her brainchild with the world.
Then adversity struck.
Lindsay’s daughter, Piper, became afflicted with sudden and unexplained leg pain. The doctors diagnosed Piper with septic arthritis, and emergency surgery was required. Piper faced the surgery bravely, but in the aftermath, she needed physical therapy.
Therapy was hard for Piper. She was deeply fearful, and refused to do her exercises. She often cried through her sessions. The experience was just as agonizing for Lindsay. She had been transformed from therapist to the parent of a child in therapy, and she was living the parents’ experience from the inside. As a parent, Lindsay felt her child’s pain. Seeing her daughter struggling in therapy confirmed every concern she’d felt on that day when she looked out into that waiting room between appointments and bore witness to the hardships of her patients and their families.
But Piper’s experience also catalyzed Lindsay’s drive to make Augment Therapy work. Lindsay had been passionate before, yes, but now she became nothing less than obsessed.
Piper, as it turned out, became the inaugural Augment Therapy test patient. Using an early version of the software, Piper was the first player of Augment Therapy’s games, and the first explorer of its vast, virtual landscapes. Piper took to the program with glee, zestfully engaging in the very same exercises she’d been refusing to do just days before.
Witnessing this, Lindsay was exultant as both a mom and an entrepreneur. What had started as a “fire in the gut” became, in her words, a “nuclear explosion of purpose.” She’d felt the nagging call before, but now she was ready to dedicate her life to getting Augment Therapy out into the world, so that kids, parents, and therapists could experience all the same benefits that she had.
Augment Therapy succeeds because it is created not only by a therapist, but by the parent of a child in therapy. Lindsay has seen the positive effects of her brainchild for her own child. All told, she comprehensively understands the hopes, fears, and difficulties faced by parents with kids in PT from both sides, because she has seen both sides, professionally and personally. These are the difficulties she seeks to allay by continually striving to make Augment Therapy more effective and more accessible.