5 Ways Avantor Adopted a Whole-Body Approach to MSK

July 12th, 2021  by  Melissa Hohenberger – Sr. Manager, Global Benefits at Avantor

At Avantor, our employees are our most important asset. We strive to create a culture that provides everything they need to be happy, healthy, and successful. This includes accessible and effective preventive health programs that reduce risk or manage a condition. So we partnered with Hinge Health to ensure they can receive quality and convenient pain management care if they need it.

Avantor is a Fortune 500 company and a leading global provider of mission-critical products and services to the life sciences, advanced technologies, and applied materials industries.

For example, we manufacture everything from silicones used in medical devices to technologies on the Mars Rover. We also manufacture lipids used in the development of vaccines and distribute PPE supplies for healthcare systems. Both of which are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have a diverse workforce of more than 12,000 employees in 180 countries: warehouse workers, lab scientists, customer care support, sales, and corporate employees.

We help prevent musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions in our workforce by offering stretching sessions, fitness and yoga classes, and wellness advice. We also help our employees prevent unnecessary surgeries.

The Link Between Lifestyle & MSK Conditions

We understand that MSK conditions aren’t isolated physical injuries. Lifestyle choices combined with environmental factors can contribute to MSK pain. For example, weight overburdens the joints, but dietary practices such as eating pro-inflammatory foods like sugar and carbohydrates also increase joint inflammation. Layer in physical inactivity, stress, and lack of sleep, and you’ll get increased joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness. This underscores the need for a whole-body approach to MSK pain.

At Avantor, we understand that managing MSK conditions takes a whole-body approach. Here are five ways we approach MSK from a whole-body perspective.

Encouraging a Culture of Safety & Wellness

First, we have a strong focus on a company culture of safety. This culture is built not only by associates engaged with their own health but also by a network of our safety managers and volunteer wellness champions.

We start every meeting with a safety or quality minute, such as doing a stretching exercise for the shoulders or neck or discussing health topics like COVID-19. We offer our employees a catalogue of “safety minute slides” to use in their meetings; many of them are focused on the importance of flexibility and mobility.

All our large sites have local wellness committees that have focused educational offerings on inflammation as it relates to gut health or joint pain, which are related. Our U.S. healthcare spend on both gastro-intestinal (GI) conditions and MSK conditions is high. In prior years, GI conditions are the #3 medical spend and MSK is the #2 medical spend. As a result, we have focused on how to prevent conditions through inflammation and diet.

We offer nutrition education on how to avoid inflammatory foods and personalized nutrition counseling with registered dietitians for people who are ready to make changes in their eating habits. Recognizing the connection between diet, stress, mental health, and MSK pain, we also offer mental health counseling.

Incentivizing Healthy Behavior through Preventive Care

At Avantor, we believe in preventive care. So to support our employees on their physical health journey, we provide programs that incentivize healthy behavior.

We offer our employees savings opportunities for improving biometric health measures such as blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. In addition, we reimburse employees for gym memberships, online fitness programs, or weight management programs. All of these programs are meant to support associates to help them maintain or improve their physical health and focus on preventive care.

Driving Accountability with Coaching and Wearable Technology

Third, a pillar of our benefits philosophy is our belief in driving personal accountability for one’s health. We identified point solutions like Hinge Health to help someone struggling with a specific condition. Employees have someone who is coaching them along the way to help them be accountable. It’s not general health coaching; that’s what we liked about Hinge Health — it’s condition-specific to MSK.

Health coaches help our employees create the right mindset for recovery. You have to be in the right mental state to change behavior and lifestyle. Hinge Health’s health coaches and physical therapists are supported by wearable technology and an easy-to-use app, which offer a tangible mechanism and structure to support exercise therapy and behavior change to reduce MSK pain.

Partnering with the Environmental Health & Safety Team to Reduce MSK Injury

We also recognize that employees in our physical labor jobs have a higher risk of injuries from push-and-pull repetitive motions or lifting. Sedentary work in our corporate functions and customer care can cause back, shoulder, and neck strain.

When we rolled out Hinge Health, we partnered with our Environmental Health & Safety team to cross-promote the new MSK benefit. Anytime someone reports any discomfort or pain from their work-related tasks to the Environmental Health & Safety team, they promote Hinge Health as it fits with the situation.

Pre-shift stretches are required in our warehouses, and at launch, Hinge Health was promoted during these stretches. We also did joint webinars to promote Hinge Health and educate our employees about MSK care options and prevention tips before injuries happen.

Finding a Holistic All-in-One MSK Provider

Finally, my last tip is to find a holistic MSK provider. It’s not enough to offer physical therapy. Your physical pain is connected to your mental state, what you eat, and your lifestyle.

We partnered with Hinge Health because we were looking for a point solution that is holistic, innovative, and technology-based and that combines health coaching and physical therapist–guided exercise therapy with education and lifestyle change.

I had a chance to try the Hinge Health program myself, and I thought the progression of the exercise therapy was really well thought-out and meant for people at any fitness level.

With Hinge Health, we had a seamless integration and easy implementation process. We were able to deploy quickly.

How the Whole-Body Approach Drove Better MSK Outcomes

Hinge Health’s communications and marketing were great and drove high enrollments, which I’ll share with you next. By partnering with Hinge Health, we've seen incredible engagement outcomes.

  • Educational programs: An average employee read 20 educational articles throughout the care program.

  • Physical therapy: Our employees can watch videos and perform virtual physical therapy sessions on their own schedules. As an added bonus, employees are provided with wearable sensors to help them complete the exercises correctly.

  • Care team interactions: Physical therapists, health coaches, and clinicians team with each employee to inspire a stronger bond, increase engagement, and address holistic lifestyle changes. As a result, our employees interacted with their care team on average five times per week.

  • MSK pain reduction: Each person had an average 58% pain reduction in the first 12 weeks of the program, which far exceeds pain reduction rates of 15% in clinical trials of opioids.

    The bottom line: workers’ pain was reduced nearly 4x more than when opioids are used.

  • Mental health improvements: After 12 weeks, there was an 80% reduction in anxiety and a 78% reduction in depression among employees.

  • Increased productivity: Successful pain management coupled with improved mental health often precedes increased productivity and engagement. After the first 12 weeks of the Hinge Health program, absenteeism decreased by 36%.

  • Financial outcomes: For starters, we experienced a 4.2x return on investment from our partnership with Hinge Health. We were able to reduce MSK-related surgeries by as much as 67%. With employees experiencing less pain, there's less need for expensive surgeries. As an added bonus, opioid prescriptions aren't needed as much.

Personal story: “The program has allowed for meaningful changes in my life”

After we launched the Hinge Health program, we got many thank-you emails from our employees.

Here's one I want to share that highlights how a holistic approach to MSK results in better outcomes:

"I was experiencing persistent low back pain that I felt most mornings. In the past year, I've benefited greatly from the program. The routines are thoughtfully constructed and easy to use, and the coaches I've had over the course of the year have all been engaged, supportive, and helpful. Both the physical and mindfulness challenges are designed to provide a holistic approach to pain management and improvement. Most importantly, I've experienced significant improvements. The program has allowed for meaningful changes in my life, and I'm truly appreciative."

Find out how your company can benefit from offering quality MSK pain management and achieve similar results by requesting a demo with Hinge Health.

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Melissa Hohenberger
About the Author

Melissa Hohenberger is Sr. Manager of Global Benefits at Avantor. She plays a pivotal role in the design and implementation of benefit, health, and well-being programs for Avantor’s employees around the globe. With over 15 years of experience in corporate health, she is responsible for benefits, programs, and resources that improve the lives and health of Avantor’s 12,000+ employees and their families.

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