Going from traditional to digital : Spinal Technology’s story with Travis Hood
March 26th – 2021
In this episode of the TechMed 3D Podcast, our guest, Travis Hood, in charge of customer service at Spinal Technology, shares how they managed their digital transition. Hear about their challenges and how the benefits of 3D scanning technology helped them simplify their processes.
Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kate Stern: I’m here with Travis hood, who’s speaking to us from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Travis is in charge of customer service at Spinal Technology, which has two fabrication facilities, one in Cape Cod, and one in Kentucky. How are you, Travis?
Travis Hood: I’m good Kate, how are you?
KS: Oh, I’m good, thanks. Pleasure to be speaking with you.
TH: Thanks for having me as well.
KS: And I first want to know what Spinal Technology does. Obviously, it’s all about spines.
TH: That is correct. We are a multi-location, central fabrication facility that specializes in all aspects of custom spinal bracing, whether it’s post-operative, supportive, or actual corrective bracing, which is the majority of what our business is now and where we’re spending most of our time and efforts to continue to kind of streamline that process.
KS: I think you were mentioning the Kentucky facility can do next-day delivery for trauma centers.
TH: Yep, that is correct. So, the facility in Kentucky is located within a few miles of the UPS central air hub, and we’re able to take next-day air delivery orders up until 10 o’clock Eastern Time. And they can be delivered anywhere in the United States that UPS provides that service the next day. So, they’ll be there tonight until 10 o’clock and taking orders. And they’ll be delivered tomorrow at somebody’s house—hopefully getting somebody out of a hospital bed.
KS: Yeah, I didn’t even realize that would be necessary, to have that done so quickly in a trauma incident, but I guess it is.
TH: Certainly. Yeah, insurance doesn’t like to pay for extended stays in hospitals. So, the quicker they can get them out of those hospitals, the better. And now obviously with the whole covid-19 thing going on, they’re trying to free those beds up a lot quicker.
KS: Mm, of course.
TH: We’ve seen that become a real important part of our business.
KS: And how about the Cape Cod facility—is that where you produce things with longer lead times?
TH: Yep. Our facility in Cape Cod is more our corporate headquarters. We do about 70%, maybe 80% of our scoliosis fabrication there. It’s much smaller than our facility in Kentucky. It’s probably a third of the size, but a lot of the people who have been, who are working in that facility are extremely talented, experienced technicians who have been treating scoliosis for well over 20 years in most cases. So, it’s definitely an interesting place. When I walked in there 15 years ago, I never once thought I would be—that I would A) still be there, but B) have the knowledge, and have been given the knowledge that I’ve been given over the last 15 years.
KS: Mm. In treating this really specialized condition?
TH: Yeah, it affects a lot of people. I’m sure that every single person that you know, somebody in their family has scoliosis, or somebody they know has scoliosis, it can affect their entire life. My mother has scoliosis and she’s got back pain all the time, so it’s one of those things that, if left untreated, certainly can make the rest of your life unpleasant.
KS: Definitely. And I heard you’re using the TechMed 3D solution in your facilities. Can you tell me what you’re using it for?
TH: Sure. We will generally—in both of our facilities, we have a mold library of over 5,000 molds. So, if one of those molds has been used or or damaged in one way or the other, we’ll take that mold out of the library, use the TechMed technology and the Occipital scanner, and scan that mold, to replace it in our library. If the few customers of ours who are still sending in full-body casts, whether it’s plaster or fiberglass, [if they send in those casts] we’ll take those casts as well, scan them, and digitize them, to get them into fabrication as a foam mold, rather than a big, heavy plaster mold. Because those molds can weigh as much as 80 pounds, 80 to 100 pounds, depending on the size of the patient.
KS: So you’re basically gradually replacing your 5,000-mold library with a digital library?
TH: Yeah, it’s digital, but they’re still going to be there as foam physical molds. It’s just more so we have that shape. So, if we know that that shape of that mold is in our digital library, we can access it from either facility. It’s been a very, very helpful tool for sure, because we’ve got some customers who will send us one scan, but want two different types of braces made out of that same scan. So, we can modify the first mold, scan it, and then remodify it into the second style of brace.
KS: That makes sense. Do you find the scans produce as good results as having the physical foam mold?
TH: I would say [yes], 100%. Having a scan of a patient, it’s going to give you a much better idea of the actual patient’s shape and anatomy, whether it’s bony prominences or rotation. There’s a lot of things that people don’t necessarily think about when they’re ordering a spinal brace. You ask them for simple questions, like, does the patient have a belly, or are there any bony prominences. And these are the things that people won’t necessarily pick up in a conversation over the phone when somebody’s giving you these measurements verbally. But if you have a good scan taken of a patient, you’re going to be able to see all of those things. And it definitely helps our techs from start to finish, to be able to [have those scans]—whether it’s the first step, which would be modifying the scan in our software, all the way through the whole entire process.
KS: So, you guys actually scan patients as well as scanning the molds that you have already made?
TH: Yep. So our customers, what they’ll do is they’ll see a patient, whether it’s a scoliosis patient, somebody who’s shape is maybe a little bit asymmetrical, they’ll scan that patient using the TechMed 3DsizeMe. We have a version of it customized for Spinal Tech. So, they’ll use that, send us the scan of the patient. Our order forms were all uploaded into that skin. They’ll send us, if it’s a scoliosis patient, they can attach x-ray photographs—all of it in one file. It comes to us and we’re off and running from there.
Looking back at what you have accomplished, is there anything you would have changed about how you integrated this technology?
TH: So, I think that like anything, whenever you’re moving forward in something—some sort of a new technology—every step, every decision is going to be deliberated and over-analyzed, and it’s going to take you time through each one of those steps and decisions because you’re afraid of making a mistake. I think with how successful we were with integrating this into both of our buildings, helping our customers integrate into their clinics, I think the only thing we would change is that we would have done it a lot faster. Because it has changed the way that not only Spinal Tech is doing business, but all of our customers that are using this technology now. It’s definitely changing the way that patients are being treated.
KS: So, the only thing you would change is to do it even sooner?
KS: And what held you back from doing it sooner?
TH: I guess it would be the concern that you’re going into an unknown territory that you’re not familiar with it. So, when you’re working with the guys from TechMed and they ask you a question, you think you know the answer, you think you know what you want, but at that time you look and you start and next thing you know, there’s five people in a room, everybody asking different questions. It just becomes a lot more tedious, and just slows the whole process down.
I think through the whole process, Ben and Matt have been super helpful as far as kind of walking us through it. But the amount of money that we’ve spent over the last 25 years on scanning technology—it’s well over a hundred thousand dollars. So trying to pitch this as something of value, when you’ve got that type of money sitting in a closet—
TH: You know, with all this old equipment that at that time was sold as a benefit to your business, and they were, but this [TechMed 3D scanning] was one of those ones that was a benefit to us. We could use it to show our customers “Hey, you don’t have to be a multimillion-dollar facility to have this technology. You can be a mom and pop shop and have this right at your fingertips, anytime you need it. And we’re here to help you bring that into your clinic.”
“You don’t have to be a multimillion-dollar facility to have this technology. You can be a mom and pop shop and have this right at your fingertips, anytime you need it. And we’re here to help you bring that into your clinic.”
KS: It’s so hard, when you’ve already made that huge investment in something, to say, “Actually it’s past its time now, and we need to invest in a new thing.”
TH: Yes! When I was having this conversation with our director of operations, Sean Cadieux, I was going through the list of all the old scanners that we’ve had and the amount of money—when I said it was just over a hundred thousand dollars, there’s a lot of money spent there. But it’s a lot of money that we’ve invested, in this industry, in Spinal Tech’s future, and the way that our patient’s braces are going to be fitting. I don’t think that, looking back, there would be any regrets from the purchasing standpoint. You know, it’s where we want to be. We want to be the leader in that industry, to kind of charge forward. And if it means spending a few bucks, then that’s what we’ve got to do.
KS: Yeah. Well, kudos for that. It sounds like you guys are the leader, from what I’ve heard, in this industry.
TH: I think we would like to believe the same thing as well. This is our 30th year in business. So, there’s not many of those places out there that can say that. It’s definitely a great place to work, great company, and I don’t think we’re going anywhere for a long time.
KS: So, I’m wondering what the biggest obstacles were to integrating this technology?
TH: The biggest obstacles—in, as far as integrating them into our daily operations?
KS: Yeah. Even if not all of your customers have it yet.
TH: Right. I would say the biggest hurdle for us from a customer support standpoint has been helping them kind of learn how to do it properly and effectively. As easy as it is [to use], it’s still a newer technology for most of our practitioners. There’s a wide range of folks as far as age goes in this industry, so some of them aren’t really willing to accept a newer technology. It’s the old-dog-new-trick type of syndrome. But I think the easiest way for those folks to kind of get up and running quickly is to involve somebody like Spinal Tech or TechMed to help guide them through that process and overcome any challenges that they may face.
KS: Right. Then you get experts on hand to help answer their questions.
TH: Yeah, it’s been difficult obviously without being able to travel. So, you’re doing a lot of Zoom calls and FaceTime videos and trying to get to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, to hopefully help them correct any of the issues that they may be having. So, it hasn’t been easy. Normally if there was a customer somewhere around here and they said they were having trouble, we could drive there. You know, to be there and just kind of help them through the whole process.
KS: So that must be frustrating sometimes, having to do it all by video call.
TH: Yeah! Video calls, emails, texts, phone calls… You’re trying to walk them through something and if you’re not exactly describing it the way that they would like it to be described, it becomes difficult to communicate that. So, it’s definitely a hurdle. I mean, the problem is that sometimes you only have those conversations once you get a scan that wasn’t done properly, or [notice] something that was missing. And so now you’re trying to fix a problem and the patient may have come from 50 miles away to that clinic and they’re already on their way home.
KS: Yeah, that would be really frustrating. Is there anything you guys do to try to standardize that kind of thing? To prevent it from happening?
TH: Yeah, I think that anytime that somebody inquires into using the Spinal Tech app or using scanning, it would be a fairly common occurrence for myself or somebody else to spend some time with them on the phone, go through some of the most common mistakes. [That might mean] having them kind of view it in my office, scanning somebody and walking them through what I’m doing, showing them the things that I’m doing, that you may not be able to pick up on the screen. My daughter has been a trooper through the whole thing. Anytime I need her to be my test patient, she’s willing to do it. She only gets paid in candy, so it’s easy.
KS: Aww. She’s your model?
TH: She certainly is. She’s also one of our larger promotions. At one point, at one of the trade shows, I think when she was about six or seven years old, I had brought the iPad and the scanner home, and we had just got the app going from TechMed. I was all excited and I was showing it to her and she took it and she put her American doll right down on the kitchen floor. She hit start. She walked around the American doll, scanned the whole thing, hit done, and so I still have that video now on a flash drive. So whenever we go to a trade show, I can plug it right into the TV and show some of these guys, you know, who say “It’s too hard to do it. I can’t do it.” Well, here’s a six- or seven-year-old in my kitchen scanning something.
“[My daughter] walked around the American doll, scanned the whole thing, hit done, and so I still have that video now on a flash drive. So whenever we go to a trade show, I can plug it right into the TV and show some of these guys, you know, who say “It’s too hard to do it. I can’t do it.” Well, here’s a six- or seven-year-old in my kitchen scanning something.“
KS: Haha! So that would be the American Girl [brand of] doll, like Samantha or Josephine?
TH: Yeah, exactly.
KS: I definitely remember those. Yeah, so that sounds like it’s actually quite simple. There are just a few things you need to keep in mind, to avoid mistakes basically. Is there anything you found as the number one mistake people tend to make?
TH: The number one mistake that we see right now I would say is the importance of—one thing that we try to point out to everybody is making sure that, it may sound simple, but making sure that they indicate to us on the patient what their true waist is. And that can be done with a stocking, that material. We have elastic waist belts that we provide, and they just wrap it around their waist, so we can pick it up on the scan. And then we know that’s where they were measuring everything from. It keeps us consistent between the practitioner and our entire fabrication team.
KS: That makes sense. That would be so important for it to be comfortable—fitted at your waist.
TH: Yep. Yeah, it is. It’s a lot of times, the most common one is when people call and they give us length measurements. If they’re just giving us measurements over the phone and they’ll refer to the belly button. It’s constant, it’s “Oh, it’s off the umbilicus. It’s off the belly button,” which for some people may be their true waist, but if you’ve got somebody with a little bit of a belly, it probably isn’t their true waist. So now, you know, with our molds, there’s not 5,000 belly buttons sitting on those racks. It’s a true waist, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to make sure that we’re all staying consistent on. So that’s one thing that we definitely preach, whether it’s in training or in any paperwork we give out.
I think the other most important one is tight-fitting clothing. That‘s a big culprit of causing bad scans. The whole idea is to get a real accurate shape of the patient and if they’re, you know, wrapped in an Afghan [shawl], you’re not going to be able to tell what that person’s shape is. So, it’s just trying to communicate with the customers, making sure that they know that if they have any questions that we’re here to help them and answer any questions they may have.
KS: Plus, I think the dolls don’t have belly buttons. So your daughter wouldn’t be able to find the true waist.
TH: Haha, yes, she would not be able to! But she’s very familiar with that elastic waist belt, that’s for sure.
KS: That’s great. Well, thank you so much, Travis. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
TH: Thanks for having me Kate.