Updated: Jun 26
We're featuring cool, interesting or impactful things happening in our industry, and one of the things we love celebrating is how digital workflow has made it easier for women to work in the O&P industry. Many of our customers are mums, and we've seen how digital has opened up doors for them to work more flexibly. Here, we chat with Shanelle Whitson of Bop Orthotics about her recent venture out on her own, moving into digital workflows and what it means for her, her business and her clients.
When did you start your digital workflow journey? What made you start? How have you gone about starting?
I'm quite new to introducing a digital workflow into my practice, having only taken it on this year, from the beginning of 2023. I have a very small "micro" practice, where I am the business owner, orthotist, admin and technician (with some help from my Dad, a semi retired Plumber- who is in training to be a fantastic technician!).
My business Bop Orthotics, was born during Covid lockdown after I had moved my life to Warrnambool in South West Victoria, and decided to go out on my own. I gradually built my practice to a nice steady workflow of full time work - which kept me very busy in the clinic, but especially busy in the workshop. Not too long after establishing a routine and building of the client base, I was delighted to be pregnant with my first baby. As time progressed, I found that a hot workshop when 36 weeks pregnant and modifying plaster casts, getting everything finished before my maternity leave was certainly a motivator to find a more streamlined way of working! On returning to work when my baby was 6 months old, I knew that I wanted to incorporate a digital workflow to my practice to benefit both my practice and also my clients.
What are you hoping to achieve by working digitally - for your clients, your service and yourself?
Work life balance is certainly a motivator, as less time fabricating is worth so much more to me these days! As well as streamlining workflow, the fit and quality of the finished product needed to right. I have found that I have been able to provide a really beautiful end product that both myself and the client are really pleased with by using a digital system.
What does digital fabrication enable in your orthotics work with clients?
Time spent in client assessment is still crucial in the design of the device. I was concerned that I would feel like I wasn't involved in the manufacture of the orthoses, a part of this profession that I still really love, however I haven't found that to be true. As the Clinician, you still have control over the modifications and design of the device - it's just an adjustment to getting used to that now being in a digital format.
What has it enabled for your service and for you personally?
Reduced cost of materials, less time in fabrication, no postage of casts to central fabrication facilities.
Any particular stories of impact or case studies you'd like to share?
The first client I fitted with a 3D printed AFO was a 3 year old boy with cerebral palsy, a 15mm leg length discrepancy and a calf contracture. This little man used a thermoplastic AFO with a heel raise and a walking sole added to it, because the AFO wouldn't fit into a shoe. Now with a 3d Printed AFO the material is much thinner than the plastic and with no chunky EVA sole, so he was able to fit it in a shoe - which means no wet socks in the wet Warrnambool winter - his mum is very pleased about that!
Anything else you’d like to share about digital fabrication and / or its potential for the sector?
There is of course a learning curve to taking on a new system, and as I'm quite new to digital workflow there is probably a bit more emailing back and forth as I bother the fine people at Ability Made with questions and make mistakes in my processes, though I have only ever had a positive responses from them.
What would you say to other orthotists considering digital fabrication?
The designs available are absolutely beautiful and so far the clients love them- It makes a nice change for kids in particular who have had the same thermoplastic transfer paper options available to them for years, and now suddenly have a whole new range of options.
MORE ABOUT BOP ORTHOTICS
Bop Orthotics is an orthotics clinic based in Warrnambool, owned and run by Shanelle Whitson. Originally from Mortlake, Shanelle has now returned home to the South West after working around Australia in a variety of different clinical settings as both and Orthotist and Prosthetist. Shanelle especially has a love of working with children, with areas of interest in complex gait management and plagiocephaly treatment.