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Closing the gaps in musculoskeletal care with virtual therapy

March 13, 2024 | 3 min read

Musculoskeletal [MSK] pain affects half of American adults and is a significant healthcare cost driver for employers. [1] Despite its prevalence, access to care is still limited, particularly for those who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, or living in rural areas. [2] As MSK costs and the need for care continue to be top of mind for employers, there are a few factors to consider. [3]

MSK conditions affect physical and mental health

The impact of MSK pain is staggering. The approximately 150 different MSK diseases or conditions are characterized by persistent pain, leading to limitations in mobility and dexterity. According to the World Health Organization, musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide. [4]

The economic burden of MSK—about $980 billion every year in the U.S.—is also driven by unnecessary surgeries, excessive imaging procedures, and the overprescription of opioids. Additionally, chronic pain, a common symptom of MSK disorders, is linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression.

People lack access to musculoskeletal care

Many employees seek help but struggle to access it. While 50% of Americans live with a condition that calls for physical therapy, only 10% opt for in-person sessions. [5] Of those who start seeing an in-person physical therapist, half stop after four sessions. This trend is influenced by challenges in arranging transportation, taking time off from work, and covering co-pay expenses. Notably, these obstacles disproportionately affect communities of color and women.

MSK pain can affect costs and morale

The effects of MSK issues can ripple throughout an organization. Indirect costs, such as those incurred through absenteeism, presenteeism, disability, and early retirement, can affect an employer’s bottom line and overall productivity. In addition, the mental health impacts of these challenges can affect people on a personal level and, if left unaddressed at a population level, can lead to a decrease in employee morale and well-being. Ultimately, this can have a detrimental effect on employee retention rates and an employer's ability to attract new talent.

The future includes online MSK care

Digital MSK tools make healthcare more accessible and cost-effective, while empowering people with self-management resources. When a 60-year-old Accolade member was diagnosed with knee pain, her nurse provided her with information about her symptoms, helped her engage with on-demand fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness classes, and connected her with online care. In fact, our virtual therapy partners have found that more people complete online therapy sessions and drop their plans for MSK surgery.

This shift towards personalized, evidence-based care enhances the overall rehabilitation experience. It also helps employers lower costs and boost productivity by minimizing missed workdays. Additionally, the emphasis on employee well-being through innovative care benefits fosters a positive work environment. Employees feel supported, valued, and motivated, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

A holistic approach to MSK care with virtual physical therapy is already transforming the landscape of healthcare and employee wellness. View a webinar with Accolade and Hinge Health to learn how partnerships are key to this transformation.

[1] Musculoskeletal Condition Fast Facts

[2] The Drive for Health Equity - The Need to Use Technology to Reduce Healthcare Disparities in Orthopedics

[3] 2024 Large Employer Health Care Strategy Survey: Executive Summary

[4] WHO: Musculoskeletal health

[5] Hinge Health Issues 2023 State of Musculoskeletal Care Report

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