How Southern Company Solved Back and Joint Pain during COVID-19 & Beyond

Benefits leader George Marling, Senior Consultant of Benefits, shares how Southern Company, a leading energy company headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, addressed back and joint pain with Hinge Health’s at-home digital care during COVID-19.

Published Date: May 11, 2020

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George Marling
Senior Consultant of Benefits at Southern Company.
__George Marling__ is Senior Consultant of Benefits at Southern Company, where he supports the evaluation, selection, and management of benefits programs for more than 30,000 employees. As an HR professional with over 20 years of experience, he is responsible for the development and implementation of wellness strategies and initiatives, as well as supporting benefits communications strategy, design, and distribution of health and welfare benefits for Southern Company.

Southern Company, a leading energy company headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, serves 9 million customers throughout the US. For more than a century, we have been building the future of energy and developing the full portfolio of energy resources, including carbon-free nuclear, advanced carbon capture technologies, natural gas, renewables, energy efficiency, and storage technology. I recently spoke on a webinar hosted by the Business Group on Health (BGH) together with Dr. Jeff Krauss, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Hinge Health. Here’s a summary of Southern Company’s experience addressing musculoskeletal (MSK) pain during COVID-19 and beyond.

MSK was the #2 cost driver for Southern Company’s medical spend

With 31,000 employees across 18 states, we’re dedicated to the well-being of our workforce and rank 14th as America’s Best Employer in Forbes. Our utility workforce includes line crews out in the field, staff at generator facilities, and employees in office settings. Our utility work involves a fair amount of overhead tasks which can strain employees’ back, shoulder, and knees. When we analyzed our medical spend, 15% of our spend was due to MSK disorders like back and joint pain. In fact, MSK was our #2 cost driver, and we found MSK disorders were prevalent across our workforce from line crew to office workers.

Even before COVID-19, one of the major challenges for our employees was finding time to attend physical therapy appointments a couple of times a week over several months. Because we deliver power to our customers 24/7, our work schedules are highly variable. Now if we layer in COVID-19, people who are experiencing chronic back or joint pain aren’t even able to access physical therapy. In addition, we also wanted a digital MSK treatment solution to avoid the need for pain medications and unnecessary surgery.

Ease of use was important to us

To positively impact the physical and mental health of our workforce, we strived to create an employee experience that’s easy to use. If our employees understand how to leverage the tools available to them, they’re more likely to be successful. For these reasons, we needed an at-home digital MSK solution paired with one-on-one coaching to help engage employees. We also wanted a solution that was proven and had a track record for delivering both positive experiences and outcomes.

We knew if the digital solution was easy to use, we would get the health outcomes we desired. What’s more, if a solution works, word of mouth travels fast among our workforce and we expected higher adoption rates as well. We decided to partner with Hinge Health because we felt its coach-led digital program delivers best practice MSK care with sensor-guided exercise therapy, one-on-one coaching, and personalized education. In addition, employees could do the treatment from the comfort of their homes at a time that’s convenient to them.

High engagement resulted in positive outcomes for participants

The participation and engagement in the Hinge Health program have been overwhelmingly high--setting new records for our predominantly male workforce. Over a 12-week treatment period, the program resulted in an average of 29 exercise therapy sessions, 76 coaching sessions, and 18 education articles per participant.

What’s more this high engagement resulted in positive health outcomes for participating Southern Company employees with an average:

  • 62% reduction in MSK pain

  • 2 out of 3 surgeries avoided

  • 58% decrease in depression

  • 45% decrease in absenteeism and presenteeism

Personal success story: My life has changed

Behind the numbers, the impact of the Hinge Health program on people’s lives is heartwarming. I wanted to share this story from one of our office workers who is currently working from home due to COVID-19. With Hinge Health’s digital MKS solution, she was able to get treatment from home. Her story highlights the importance of Hinge Health’s one-on-one coaches who build the necessary relationships, emotional support, and motivational inspiration for participants to complete the treatment remotely.

“When I received an email last December that there was a program that could possibly help me with the knee pain I was having, I jumped to the chance to be a part of it. I was in pain daily and I thought I might have to see a doctor. My mother had knee pain and I felt it was inevitable that I would have the same problem throughout my life. I was unable to exercise and the pain appeared to be getting worse each day.

I started the program in December and in a few short weeks, I could feel the pain begin to cease. With the help of the excellent coaches and great information, I can exercise often and I am virtually pain-free today four months later.

I would like to thank Coach Jamie and Coach Shannon for having such a positive impact on my life. Coach Jamie offered great encouragement, answered questions and so much more. I want to share my heartfelt gratitude to her for the great check-in sessions. Those sessions meant more than I can say. The Hinge Health resources kept me on the right track to where I am today. Her pleasant attitude and willingness to cheer me on will never be forgotten.

Coach Shannon is very personable. I look forward to her words of encouragement each week. She has been the ultimate source of inspiration during this pandemic.

To that end, I can’t say enough good things about this program. My life has been changed and it will never be the same.”

With COVID-19 exacerbating employee physical and mental health combined with lack of access to physical therapy or surgery, Hinge Health’s at-home digital MSK solution and high-touch one-on-one coaching offer critical support to the well-being of our workforce in a time of great need.

If you would like to find out how Hinge Health can address your employees’ chronic MKS pain and mental health during COVID-19, request a demo below.