The Future of Digital Care

Tackling the Costs of Physical and Emotional Pain in the Workplace

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Chronic back, neck, and joint pain afflicts millions of Americans and accounts for the largest share of U.S. health care expenditures. In 2016, spending on musculoskeletal disorders cost an estimated $380 billion, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Physical pain, of course, also has a human cost in lost wages, reduced quality of life, and ultimately workers’ mental health. A comprehensive approach to treating chronic musculoskeletal pain by combining physical therapy with behavioral health and lifestyle changes creates lasting relief and helps employees avoid expensive surgeries and other medical interventions. It’s difficult, however, for people suffering from musculoskeletal pain to obtain coordinated treatment or get consistent support for following a treatment plan that keeps them healthy over time.

Pain versus Productivity

Employees and managers are acutely aware of the impact that chronic musculoskeletal pain has on individuals’ mental health and ability to work. And they want employers to do more to help their colleagues. According to a survey of 254 respondents by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 90% agree that when people experience chronic physical pain, they are more likely to be anxious or depressed, while a greater percentage concur that pain, both physical (93%) and mental (92%), takes a toll on people’s ability to be highly productive and engaged at work.

An overwhelming majority of respondents, including managers and employees in a wide range of industries, also agree that employers could step up their support for employees’ mental health needs (91%) and do more to assist employees who suffer from chronic physical pain (81%).

These findings point to a gap in the health care benefits and wellness resources that are available to help employees treat their pain, whether to alleviate a chronic condition or to prevent one from developing. Digital health care solutions support virtual visits with providers, sensor technologies help patients complete their exercises at home, and tracking tools measure treatment progress. These digital solutions can make physical therapy, along with coaching to help patients make long-lasting behavioral changes, more accessible to more people, at a lower cost—and with better outcomes— than surgery and medication.

  1. Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Survey, November 2020

Key Takeaways

Mental pain takes a toll
92% say mental pain impacts productivity and engagement
Physical pain and depression
90% agree that people in physical pain are more likely to be depressed
Supporting employees
81% say employers could do more to support employees with chronic physical pain

Expanding Availability of Chronic Pain Care

How US Foods supports employees through digital health care solutions

“Like most medical plans, our plan covered physical therapy appointments, which required deductibles, coinsurance, and copays,” says Joe Toniolo, senior director, health and welfare benefits with US Foods, a foodservice distributor with $28 billion in annual revenue. The company has offered a digital physical therapy, behavior coaching, and weight loss counseling benefit to employees with musculoskeletal pain since 2017. “We saw a valuable opportunity to remove these cost hurdles and make it easier for associates to gain access to these benefits—and protect their health and wellbeing at the same time.”

The US Foods program is free to participants and includes a tablet, wearable sensors to use while exercising, and physical therapy applications they can perform remotely anytime, anywhere. They also get unlimited access to a physical therapist and a health coach. “it’s a valuable tool in supporting their treatment,” says Toniolo.

Employees appear eager for virtual health and wellness services. Enthusiasm for virtual care does not in itself guarantee uptake however. To ensure better health outcomes and savings, employers will need to educate employees and managers about these resources, and actively encourage their use.

Key Takeaways
Enthusiasm for virtual care
84% say virtual care helps people get better care
Key Takeaways
Enthusiasm for virtual care
84% say virtual care helps people get better care

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