While working as an autism specialist for the state of California, behavioral psychologist Sara Gershfeld met hundreds of families and realized they all had the same problem while seeking care for their children. While parents are provided with a list of 10 applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists, there was little way of telling if any of the specialists would be a good fit for their child.
Some asked other families for recommendations. But parents who did not know other people with autistic children were left adrift. To help them, Gershfeld created Love My Provider, a directory and review site of therapists and other professionals who work with autistic children.
“Parents who don’t have that network have to recreate the wheel each time,” Gershfeld told TechCrunch. “I would find kids who came to me at seven years old, but had yet to say their first word. When I started working with them, I was able to put them with the right provider.”
While trying to figure out how to help her clients, Gershfeld thought of her background in technology. As a teenager she worked for her parents’ electronics company. While studying neuroscience at Scripps College, she also worked in the school’s IT department.
“The number of autism diagnoses are increasing so quickly that people are calling it an epidemic and technology just isn’t there yet. It’s so easy for us to pick the best hamburger place to go based on what hundreds of people think, but for some reason we don’t have the means to solve a real problem,” Gershfeld says.
While looking at Yelp and other major review sites, Gershfeld saw that there were no entries for therapists. She did a research study with Northwestern University’s MBA program and found that parents are hesitant to leave reviews on public sites that can be traced back to their child. If they need to find a new provider, however, it could take six months to a year before they manage to locate someone suitable.
Gershfeld decided to launch Love My Provider, which is currently seeking seed funding. The site doesn’t just list therapists. Autistic children also need other healthcare specialists, service providers, and organizations that understand their needs and provide a friendly environment for families.
“The main things that people have trouble finding are dentists, hairdressers, and optometrists. For parents of neurotypical children, it’s already hard enough to find a pediatrician you like or a dentist that can use anesthesia to put your child under in a safe way or who provides a kid-friendly environment and can deal with tantrums,” says Gershfeld.
To protect the privacy of families and children, Love My Provider requires users to create an account in order to see reviews and keeps contact information private. Though the site allows users to remain anonymous, it tracks IP addresses to make sure that no one is leaving multiple or fraudulent reviews. Love My Provider currently lists providers endorsed by advocacy organization Autism Speaks. During its beta phase, the site asked parents to go through the directory and leave reviews for therapists they have worked with. Anyone can add themselves to the database and if someone gets more than three five-star reviews, they get a badge to help their listing stand out.
Gershfeld says that she plans to keep Love My Provider free for families to use. The startup is currently looking at several ideas for revenue, including advertising, promoted reviews and product, or lead generation, in which it would charge a provider a flat fee for clients referred through the site. Another idea Gershfeld is exploring is a verification service, in which Love My Provider would perform a background check on providers and give them a verified mark if they pass muster.
To find out more about Love My Provider and its offerings, click here to visit the site.