Greg, a Simplot employee, was crouched down holding his back in pain when he realized he couldn’t remember the last time he golfed with his college buddies or played basketball with his son. After years of searching for a solution to his chronic lower back pain, Greg was suffering from depression, missing work, and assumed surgery was his only hope of relieving his pain. Greg wasn’t alone - half of the population suffers from musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, and Simplot’s employees are no exception. While MSK pain does not discriminate, it can be especially common in blue-collar populations due to the manual nature of the work. It not only impacts medical spend, but also the productivity and mental health of your employees. Understanding the effects of MSK conditions is the best way to reduce the impact on medical spend and productivity for labor-intensive companies like Simplot.
Surgery: The largest contributor to spend
Surgery is the largest cost contributor to MSK spend because there is an over-reliance on surgery and pain medication without first trying alternative methods to manage chronic pain. Approximately three quarters of MSK spend is attributable to surgery and the resulting pain medications, but research shows this spend could be avoided if employees had access to non-surgical preventative care.
Productivity: Pain prevents functionality
The aches and pains of MSK conditions can have an adverse impact on employee productivity. This is especially detrimental when it comes to those whose work depends on manual labor. Greg reached a point where he was in so much pain he couldn’t bend down, preventing him from scooping wheat and fertilizer, a key function of his job. On top of that, employees with chronic pain lose time at work going to doctor visits, physical therapy, and surgery recovery which contribute to company-wide productivity loss.
Mental health: Depression intensifies pain, therefore, increasing spend
Mental health conditions are the least expected contributor to the high costs of MSK care. Mental health issues are strongly linked to chronic pain and the “Depression-Pain Dyad” is a well-known phenomenon in which pain worsens depression and depression worsens pain, creating a vicious cycle. The impact of mental health conditions factor into productivity loss and certainly do not help with managing the pain.
How can you reduce high MSK spend?
Simplot chose Hinge Health, a digital musculoskeletal care program, to address their high MSK costs resulting from surgeries, productivity loss, and mental health conditions. After 12 weeks of using the Hinge Health program, Simplot members cut their likelihood of surgery in half and improved productivity by 44%. Simplot also reported a significant decrease in clinical anxiety and depression.
By recognizing the costly effects of MSK healthcare - from unnecessary surgery, mental health spend, and the corresponding decrease in productivity - manufacturing companies have the opportunity to provide employees with a solution to reduce pain and surgery, and improve productivity and mental health, which all contribute to lower spend. By completing his weekly sensor-guided exercise therapy with the support of a health coach and educational materials, Greg can enjoy the activities he loves with friends and family, and greatly improved his quality of life.
Bair MJ, Robinson RL, Katon W, Kroenke K. Depression and Pain Comorbidity; A Literature Review. Arch Intern Med. 2003; 163(20): 2433–2445. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.20.2433.