Dr. Theresa Williamson has led a rewarding career as a neurosurgeon at Duke Health. And as a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine, her skill and dedication were instantly recognized by professional societies and colleagues in the early stages of her career, propelling such awards as the National Neurotrauma Spinal Presentation Award and the Duke Neurosurgery Clinician Award. 

Her passion and commitment has led her to write for publications like Oprah Magazine, and, most recently, to the recent launch of a new health & wellness app, THX Rx, previously WellSpentMD. THX Rx uses positive news, a time-banking program, access to wellness resources, and wellness data collection to boost positivity in the workplace and address physician burnout. 

We chatted with Dr. Williamson to learn more about her app and her experience working with Oak City Labs to bring it to market.  

Oak City Labs: What’s your backstory and the inspiration behind THX Rx? 

Theresa Williamson: I’m a neurosurgery resident at the Department of Neurosurgery at Duke Health. With the high rates of physician burnout among U.S. health professionals, the subject hits close to home. So, I wanted to learn more about the causes and also what physicians have found works best for them when it comes to overcoming it.

One of the biggest things we heard was “reward”. Not in the sense of physical or tangible rewards, but hearing from people that they did a great job, or went the extra mile as a physician. We also learned that providers gain reward and happiness from charting. 

We looked at people’s productivity and their ability to do a good job and take care of patients. We wanted to preserve and encourage that. Plus, we wanted to build a community for physicians so they can connect with each other.

This is a career that I love, and I wanted to encourage the people around me to be happy as well. 

OCL: What was the process like for finding software development help? 

TW: When it came to building the app, we started at an institutional level and looked around Duke to be cost conscious.

We met with three developers, and went to a few forums where they had different people present, and we talked to them and got quotes. We came across Oak City Labs a little later on from a mentor who was helping us develop our idea. He said he really liked Oak City Labs, and they tend to be really fair, so we may get overall what we want for a better price.

OCL: Did you run into any obstacles? 

TW: We’re not tech experts – my expertise is in neurosurgery. So, it was hard for me to evaluate the contracts and not feel like, some of the time, we’re being kinda ripped off. There were tens of thousands of dollars of difference between the quotes, which was a real challenge.

Software development is really expensive. But, you’re looking at it and thinking, I can’t personally do that work, but I’m also not sure that this is right.

Also, within an academic institution and hospital, we had to make sure we were able to get a software development team that could comply with regulations. Even though we wanted to use Oak City Labs, we still had to go through a process to make sure everything was okay for their team to implement our app within their system. 

OCL: Could you tell me more about your experience working with Oak City Labs?

TW: From a professional interaction, we needed flexibility. Because of our work schedules, we can’t meet in the middle of the day, so we needed to do our check in calls at night.

We also wanted a team who could incorporate our ideas, but be willing to say, no, we think this is the way people use things, or they may really dislike that feature. So, that really honest rapport was important to us.

I really liked their ability to say directly, this is what we’ll do, this is what you’ll deliver on, and this is the timeline. Also, I appreciated their process of having quick phone calls that don’t waste your time. They very clearly laid out what they were thinking. 

I felt there was nothing left to question. There was no thinking, ‘Oh, two months from now, I’m going to want this feature, and they’re going to say, no way’.

They were honest, very diligent, and meticulous with setting up the project. And keeping us on the timeline as well, which I found really helpful. 

The transparency and the work they put into the proposal to make sure it was something everyone would be happy with made it really easy to trust them. 

They also took the complexity of the development process and made it approachable for people who are not in the tech space, like us.

Oak City Labs forced us to put work in the app so we would love it. They have that insight and interest that they’ll make something people will be able to use. And the long term vision to keep their customer and not just develop something once. Now, we’re working with them again a few years later. 

OCL: How does it feel knowing you’re making a positive impact in your industry? 

TW: The app is super exciting and really cool. Our department was really excited about it.

The best part was trying to develop something people will love, and then seeing that happen. We pulled in a lot of people in the process of testing it out, so it was a really exciting moment to see people use it.

We now have lots of different hospitals interested in incorporating it. We’ve been able to create a new way of getting wellness data from physicians. And the biggest success has been that now the entire Duke hospital system will be taking on the app this summer.