Tatiana Chavarriaga of Medellín, Colombia was recently named one of the 35 top innovators under 35 in Latin America by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review.
The 26-year-old physical therapist turned decorated entrepreneur co-founded the platform HealthPhy with her husband. Their app encourages physical therapy rehab to be done remotely, helping relieve users of persistent pain from the comfort of their own homes. Coming from Medellín’s booming tech scene, Chavarriaga says she’s proud to be the only Colombian woman on this year’s list of top young innovators and hopes that it can show fellow Colombianas that they can make big impacts in the male-dominated world of tech startups.
Chavarriaga spoke to Latin America Reports about the impact her app has had, and its meteoric rise during the pandemic as patients adhere to quarantine. Excerpts follow:
Latin America Reports: Tell us about HealthPhy. What’s the idea behind it?
Chavarriaga: HealthPhy is a telerehabilitation platform that digitalizes physical therapy so that it can reach everyone. Through remote usage, we’re revolutionizing the practice of physical therapy, like with personalized therapies that don’t require the patient to leave their home.
We offer two ways to use our platform. The first is our telerehabilitation platform that clinics can use with their patients, and where they can connect remotely 24/7. In addition, the platform can send them therapeutical exercise plans as a compliment to their therapy, which they can then continue from their own home.
The second way to use our platform through businesses, which can offer their employees a complete health program. That way they can improve the well-being of their workers and each employee has their own mobile app. On that app they then have access to book virtual sessions with a physical therapist in less than 24 hours.
Is that platform available in just Colombia or in other parts of Latin America as well?
We began in Colombia but, due to the pandemic, we’ve been getting more attention. We had an 80 percent growth and now we have coverage not just in Colombia, but in other Latin American countries like Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador. Our goal is to eventually have coverage in all Spanish-speaking countries.
That growth started in March with the lockdowns, correct?
Yeah, exactly. It was really because of that that we could grow so quickly in less than 10 months. We’ve evolved from offering muscular rehab treatments to also offering cardiopulmonary rehab for patients recovering from coronavirus.
We made an information session of how to assist COVID-19 patients remotely and gave those subscriptions out completely free to whoever needed it during the pandemic. We had about 500 patients in less than 10 months and those patients completed an average of eight sessions per week.
Do you think that apps like this can help fill a void that the Colombian or Latin American health systems may not necessarily be addressing?
Yeah I think that’s exactly it. That was our reason for starting this. We saw that telemedicine can help resolve a lot of the problems that exist in the health sectors in Colombia and Latin America. It gives wider access to more people, it allows a space for people with disabilities. More than anything, this is about people with very chronic conditions, who are going to need rehab their entire lives.
The health system is going through a structural crisis, where rehab centers are packed and there is not great care in clinics. It’s not because we don’t have great medical professionals, but it’s because they have to care for around five patients per hour, which diminishes the quality of care.
This was a problem that already existed but now with the pandemic, the situation is even more severe and the hospitals are overrun.
What does the future hold for HealthPhy?
Our primary goal is to improve access to systems of health, so that they can care for people beyond just those who have access to technology. But for those who might live in rural areas and can’t get to a physical therapy center, we want them to be able to do it through technology made available to them.
We consider Chile as one of the countries with the most developed telemedicine and one that has the best health professionals working in rehabilitation. So that is our first focus is to expand, while still being very strong in Colombia. One of our big goals is also to be one of the main rehab platforms that can care for not just physical therapy patients but also to give well-being to businesses.
To be named to the list of best innovators under 35 has to be an amazing honor. What does it mean for you to be included on that list?
Really the recognition is basically the product of the work we’ve been doing these last two years. I think it’s also important to point out that I was the only woman selected among the group of five Colombian winners. That, for me, inspires me to motive other women that can become entrepreneurs and to give a platform to female innovation.
As we all know, this part of the tech world is dominated by men. So I think it’s a big step forward and can also inspire other women who dare to enter into tech, so that they might start to create businesses in different industries than the ones we’re accustomed to.
Michael has been a reporter covering Latin America since 2014. He has lived and worked in Costa Rica, Colombia and Mexico. His work from the region has appeared in The Guardian, The Associated Press and Vice.