Large-scale MSK study
Cutting Through the Hype: Does Digital Health Actually Work?
The Rise of Digital Health
The convergence of new technologies like wearables, sensors, and AI combined with smartphones and tablets are rapidly redefining the healthcare landscape. Moreover, these consumer-friendly digital health apps result in better patient outcomes at a fraction of the cost.
This doubling of MSK spend was driven by two main trends. First, there was a 40% increase in per-member costs from 2010 to 2019. Second, the number of health plan members in our dataset grew by 42% in this same time period, although the number of members filing MSK medical claims remained roughly constant. As patients avoid doctor and hospital visits during COVID-19, digital health is currently experiencing a sharp uptick in demand.
Moreover, the new remote workplace is also creating new workforce health issues. With employees working in makeshift home offices and enduring long hours of videoconferencing with minimal physical activity, musculoskeletal (MSK) issues like back and neck pain are exacerbated. Post-COVID-19, remote healthcare is likely here to stay. Businesses and governments will continue to shift to innovative, remote models of delivering health care to offer better care at lower spend. Employer benefit leaders play an important role in redefining healthcare benefits to support employee well-being at home during COVID-19 and beyond.
MSK surgery is costly & ineffective. For chronic or long-term musculoskeletal issues like backor joint pain, surgery and opioids are not recommended as initial treatment options and are often unsuccessful. Research has shown back and joint surgeries can be unnecessary and ineffective, despite the hefty price tag of up to $100,000 per patient. A randomized control trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that real and placebo knee surgeries showed no difference in clinical outcomes.1 In fact, a peer-reviewed study in Spine demonstrated patients who did not have back surgery had better outcomes than those who did have back surgery.2
- Sihvonen R, M.D, et al. “Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy versus sham surgery for a degenerative meniscal tear.” New England Journal of Medicine, 2013.
- Nguyen TH, Randolph DC, et al. “Long-term outcomes of lumbar fusion among workers’ compensation subjects: an historical cohort study.” Spine, 2011.
Adherence and outcomes
In-person physical therapy has low adherence rates. In short, exercise therapy generally can be more effective and less costly than surgery at reducing joint pain. However, in-person physical therapy (PT) has low adherence rates as patients fail to do their exercises or find time in their busy lives for PT appointments. The therapy route requires a more concerted effort to ensure patients stay on track and achieve positive outcomes.
At-home digital health solution can reduce pain & medical spend. Helping people achieve significant behavior change requires sustained coaching at a time and place that conveniently fits into their lives. Remote coaching with emotional support via phone and frequent text reminders plays an important role in achieving positive outcomes for patients.
In fact, new research demonstrates sensor-guided exercise therapy paired with remote 1-on-1 health coaching and personalized education results in significant chronic pain reduction. With chronic pain resolved, expensive surgery is avoided—cutting medical spend for employers and health plans.