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New software provides customized online speech therapy for patients

The Joule Innovation grant program offered funding, professional support and mentorship to physicians and medical learners making a difference in health care. This is part of a series of stories about the 2020 recipients and their innovations.

Dr. Gregory Schmidt wants to create a better health care system — looking at innovative ways to customize virtual care for both patients and providers.

In 2019, Dr. Schmidt, a general internist, saw an opportunity to reimagine speech language therapy services. He had very personal reasons. His wife Lauren, a speech language pathologist (SLP), was making weekly trips to a clinic for in-person therapy sessions. Sometimes she had to drive there in bad weather, and patients didn’t always show for appointments. After observing her workflow for months, Dr. Schmidt concluded that, in general, speech language therapy was a good candidate for a self-contained online clinic.

  • It catered to patients with multiple appointments every week or month, who often lived in remote and rural areas.
  • Its primarily female workforce liked the flexibility that working from home provided.
  • It relied on out-of-pocket payments rather than virtual care billing codes, which did not exist at the time.
  • It required a lean electronic medical record (EMR) system: no labs, no imaging, no prescriptions.

“It was a no-brainer that we should be providing these services in a more convenient way for patients than the traditional brick-and-mortar clinic,” recalls Dr. Schmidt. “I mentioned it to one of my mentors so many times that he told me to pursue it as a full-time start-up.”

Developing a one-stop shop for patients and health care providers

Dr. Schmidt — who spent two years designing health systems in rural Kenya — created Bodo Health, a software company and virtual health care clinic. It offers in-home speech, language and voice services for children and adults with communication difficulties. Bodo Health is currently available to patients in Manitoba and Ontario.

Dr. Gregory Schmidt

Patients meet with a registered SLP on camera, a critical step in completing an accurate assessment. Through a video link, the SLP is able to see the patient’s mouth, how their facial muscles move and how their expressions change.

The software component is what sets Bodo Health apart. Because speech language therapy is interactive and involves the use of stimuli such as word prompts and flash cards, Dr. Schmidt and his team have designed a suite of online tools that SLPs can access and use with their video link. For example, they have created the world’s largest searchable phonetic dictionary for SLPs. It allows SLPs to build custom word lists based on the particular needs of a patient. The phonetic dictionary is also linked to an image dictionary, which produces different types of visual content for the flash cards.

Dr. Schmidt has integrated other technologies into the clinic, including a unique EMR system that enables patients to read their clinic notes and access resources and appointments in one place.

"Virtual health care requires more than just a video link. It requires a bottom-up approach to reconsider patient tools, workflow, care coordination, payment models and accessibility.” — Dr. Gregory Schmidt, Bodo Health

Reacting to the demands of the pandemic

Those tools for patients have proved more popular than anticipated. When Dr. Schmidt started Bodo Health, few online speech language services were available. But COVID-19 has brought new demands for online therapy and a need for tools for SLPs to use.

This year, Dr. Schmidt decided to pivot the business and focus on finetuning the software, which he has named Bodo Studio.

He is working with SLPs to test a beta version of the software, to understand the core features required to conduct a successful therapy session. Dr. Schmidt hopes to have a full product release in the new year and to begin to offer monthly subscriptions to Bodo Studio.

“Ultimately, if you're a speech language pathologist, you’ll have one platform to log into,” he explains. “You can see your first patient for fluency treatment, the next patient for articulation therapy, and then a patient for post-stroke neuro-rehab speech therapy, and you won’t need to hunt through websites and apps and feel like your resources are spread out all over the place.”

Moving beyond speech language therapy

The $50,000 Joule Innovation grant has allowed Dr. Schmidt and his team to be agile and meet the unexpected demand for online speech language tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they continue to expand the Bodo Health platform. They are currently developing modules to help the thousands of patients who have had strokes and require rehab.

Ideally, Dr. Schmidt would like to see this integrated model of care used to treat other health conditions, such as chronic disease management.

“The opportunity is there to make the online or virtual experience even better than the in-person experience.”

The 2020 Joule Innovation grant program provided $500,000 to support physician-led innovations in the areas of sustainable health care, physician health and wellness, health care solutions and access to care.

Read about the other innovations funded through the program:



About the author(s)

CMA Joule supports physicians and medical learners in the pursuit of clinical excellence. As a subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), we support the profession with continuing education and other learning opportunities as well as leading evidence-based clinical products and research.