When Ryan Gudenkauf suffered a sports hernia during his junior season of high school football, he reluctantly went to rehabilitate to get ready for track and field in the spring.
But Gudenkauf, like a majority of patients who rehab injuries, wasn’t thorough with his recommended exercise plan. For one thing, there wasn’t anyone keeping him on track and accountable. And for someone who hopes to become a physical therapist, Gudenkauf knew that his was not an isolated incident.
Regardless of why Gudenkauf didn’t keep up with his home rehabilitation, there was one painful result: he was not healed when track and field began.
“It took me awhile to recover and maybe I could have recovered faster if I had been more diligent,” Gudenkauf said.
Because of personal experience, observations while completing his own physical therapy internship, and feedback from therapists, Gudenkauf founded PTXtension, a mobile app aimed at improving patient accountability and boosting the success and cost effectiveness of physical therapy.
“The idea is to keep recovery on schedule, not necessarily make it shorter,” Gudenkauf said. “A therapist comes up with the (rehab) program, expecting you will follow it the whole time. If they have a timeline in their head, it involves you completing all your exercises. The idea is to keep people from making excessive visits (to the physical therapist) or quitting therapy.”
The web-based application comes with built-in functionality. A therapist is able to implement an in-home plan with patients, complete with number of reps for a certain number of times per day. Once the plan is proposed, patients can watch pre-made videos in their patient account. Check boxes keep them on task and a journal and dropdown pain scale — filled out by the patient — is sent directly to the therapist.
“If we find that the application makes a difference in patient recovery and it is something clinics would like to implement,” said Gudenkauf, “I would like to partner with the health records platforms they use and have the health records offer the application bundled into their own software at an increased subscription price.”
A junior majoring in finance, Gudenkauf is spending the summer interviewing clinicians to get a better understanding of the impact non-compliance with rehab programs has on the clinics. He is also interviewing the electronic health records systems that he hopes to partner with.
“I want to know how I can better help the clinicians and not just the patients,” Gudenkauf said.
Gudenkauf, who attended Iowa City West High School, has taken all the physical therapy requirements and this summer will apply to graduate school to earn a doctorate of physical therapy degree. His goal has always been to become a physical therapist, not to run a business. Although it might be an aggressive aim, he would like to exit out of PTXtension by the time he is in graduate school.
His involvement with the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) — and benefitting from its resources — helped Gudenkauf learn about the business model canvas and understand customer discovery.
“Without (Iowa JPEC) I never would have been able to partner with startup incubator and raise funding,” Gudenkauf said. “I wouldn’t have known about the opportunities. I have been able to grow.”
Gudenkauf has enjoyed success with the last two Fall Innovation Challenge events, winning a $5,000 first-place award in the undergraduate Best Technology category in 2020, and placing second to win $2,500 in the same category in 2021. Although he hasn’t won as much in the spring business model competitions, he credits those for helping him gain the experience and knowledge to make valuable pivots.
“Being in JPEC, and especially the startup incubator, I have gained an appreciation for entrepreneurship,” Gudenkauf said. “I wouldn’t eliminate the idea of pursuing future business opportunities.”