3 benefits of offering remote physical therapy to your employees
There’s a gap between what people in pain need and what they are getting. Remote PT can help bridge it
Research shows that some people aren’t getting the physical therapy (PT) they need—even when their health plan covers in-person visits. From access to cost, there are a variety of reasons for this, all of which contribute to poor rates of PT utilization and the perpetuation of musculoskeletal (MSK) pain.
Remote physical therapy is a solution that can help bridge the gaps in care that prevent people from engaging with this first-line treatment for MSK conditions. When they have access to a program that provides them physical therapy wherever they are and at a greater variety of times, often at no or low cost to them, they can more easily get the care they need and work to manage their condition before it worsens (and leads to costly interventions, like surgery).
This article explains exactly what remote physical therapy is and the obstacles to care that digital solutions can help people in pain overcome. It also covers why relying on traditional PT coverage alone isn’t enough to protect your business from rising MSK costs, lost productivity, and more, and what to look for when considering a remote PT program.
What is remote physical therapy?
Remote physical therapy allows people in pain to receive physical therapy services and treatment via video calls they access through an online platform or app.
Like in-person PT, remote PT aims to help individuals with injuries, physical challenges, and other MSK conditions improve their physical functioning, reduce pain, or promote healing through various treatment and self-management approaches.
Generally speaking, physical therapists remotely guide people through stretching exercises, exercise programs, and other modalities by providing instructions, demonstrations, and feedback to ensure proper form and technique.
It’s not uncommon for someone to meet with a therapist for six to eight weeks, two to three times a week, for around 30 to 60 minutes per session. That said, this will vary depending on several factors, including the type(s) of therapy administered and the person’s condition.
Beyond that, the scope of a remote physical therapy program can vary depending on who is offering it.
For example, Hinge Health—which offers a digital MSK program that includes remote physical therapy—leverages technology that uses a mobile phone camera to provide full-body feedback, help gauge exercise accuracy, and offer insight into the range of motion and progress of each individual.
How effective is remote physical therapy?
A meta-analysis of dozens of studies showed that remote physical therapy can be comparable to or better than traditional therapy options, and improve physical function in MSK disorders such as back pain, osteoarthritis, and more.
Why does my workforce need remote PT?
Despite half of all adults in the U.S. having an MSK condition, only 10% currently use in-person PT to treat it. Less than 25% of those who do complete their prescribed course of care.
Some may not be able to afford the copays involved with frequent visits. Others may not have the means to travel to them.
Schedules may prevent some people from being able to make available appointments. And others may not be able to get an appointment at all because of providers’ long wait times or the fact that the nearest PT is too far away.
Even if physical therapy is recommended for your employee and your provided health plan covers it, these and other barriers to care can simply make it out of reach.
They need relief—and so do businesses. MSK-related issues:
Account for 40% to 50% of the direct and indirect costs of work-related diseases across industries
Result in an average of 10.3 days of missed work/year per employee in pain
And given that the rate of new cases of chronic pain is higher than that of new cases of high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes, the impact is likely to grow.
Benefits of remote physical therapy
It’s increasingly vital for organizations to realize that traditional physical therapy alone may not be sufficient for many employees.
Remote PT can help bridge the gap in care by offering:
1. Better access, better outcomes
Having the ability to access care at a greater variety of times and from anywhere opens employees who might not otherwise be able to (or want to) engage with a physical therapist an opportunity to do so.
Think of cases such as:
A trucker with back pain who can’t stick with therapy because they are in several states every week.
A construction person recovering from a job-site shoulder injury at home and can’t drive.
A computer programmer with carpal tunnel who doesn’t get off work until 8 p.m., long after most PT clinics have closed.
A back-from-maternity-leave technician who could get in-person pelvic floor physical therapy for urinary incontinence, but chooses not to because they are embarrassed to meet with a practitioner.
Instead of putting off tackling their pain, they can engage with treatment anywhere (including the privacy of their own home) and outside of typical office hours, helping them stay consistent and see their care plan to the end.
Some remote PT programs even leverage technology to more easily connect people with a variety of other specialists who can help them manage their pain, deliver ongoing support and education, encourage compliance, and more.
One study found that those with first-time MSK pain who received early active care through a digital MSK program had an eight times lower chance of developing chronic pain at 12 months compared to those who simply rested for two to three weeks.
2. Reduced costs
While some in-person clinics may offer virtual consults from time to time, some programs specifically designed to deliver remote physical therapy offer reduced or zero copays.
This can be an engagement game-changer for those who have avoided or quit PT for financial reasons.
Adherence to physical therapy can, itself, lead to cost savings. PT can help prevent MSK conditions from progressing, sparing employees and employers the high costs associated with imaging, surgeries, and other invasive procedures.
If MSK costs are already eating into your budget, you’re not alone. MSK issues rank among the top three healthcare cost drivers for 76% of employers.
3. High level of personalization
Studies have shown that remote physical therapy can help improve health outcomes in people with musculoskeletal conditions by offering new avenues to educate them and facilitate behavior change.
With in-person PT alone, people can only get advice and modifications to their treatment plan when they have a visit. Digital programs that offer remote physical therapy, on the other hand, can feed users ongoing exercise modifications, educational materials, and other customizations more frequently and, in some cases, in data-identified times of need.
What to look for in a program that includes remote PT
Of course, not all programs are created equal. When looking to add one to your benefits portfolio, look for the following:
Remote physical therapists must have sufficient qualifications, licenses, and certifications.
But be sure to ask about training specifically related to remote care delivery, especially when it comes to communication and the assessment of people remotely.
The cycle of pain is tangled and influenced by a variety of factors, physical, mental, and behavioral.
Opt for a solution that offers a holistic care team that can address how all of these interact. For example, the complex needs of high-risk members may be best met with a team composed of a physical therapist, doctor, and health coach.
A Journal of American Physical Therapy Association study found that a person’s ability to use technology is likely to influence telehealth physical therapy delivery.
Practitioners who are good with technology and able to help users with issues engaging with the platform can be a great asset to enrollees.
When looking at the potential ROI of a program that includes remote physical therapy, confirm there are rigorous studies behind the claims to ensure you will see the same results with your population.
Many programs make lofty promises that are only backed by anecdotal evidence.
Quick start-up and seamless integration
Opt for programs that immediately engage with enrollees and offer easy, turnkey activation. Also, look to ensure that team training and customized utilization reports are included.
Investment in security
Protection of your employees’ information and interactions with physical therapists should be of paramount concern. Choose a provider that adheres to industry-leading standards for encryption, network management, and application security.
How Hinge Health can help you
Joint or muscle pain touches virtually every area of your business. Sufferers are less productive and more likely to be absent or prone to presenteeism. And with rates of new chronic pain cases soaring, already-high related healthcare costs will only continue to grow.
Hinge Health is a clinically complete MSK care approach that keeps members engaged. For everything from minor sprains to chronic pain, our care team uses advanced technology to manage member pain and remove barriers to recovery.
Studies demonstrate that our powerful, clinically validated digital MSK solution yields positive long-term outcomes and claims reductions.
There are many health issues you can’t have much of an impact on.
This isn’t one of them.
Let’s talk about how we can get to work for you.
Third annual report spotlights pressing MSK care trends in America
Dolot J, Hyland M, Shi Q, Kim HY, Viola D, Hoekstra C. Factors Impacting Physical Therapy Utilization for Patients With Nonspecific Low Back Pain: Retrospective Analysis of a Clinical Data Set. Phys Ther. 2020;100(9):1502-1515. doi:10.1093/ptj/pzaa082
Hinge Health. People in Pain Survey, July 2022.
Nahin RL, Feinberg T, Kapos FP, Terman GW. Estimated rates of incident and persistent chronic pain among US adults, 2019-2020. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(5). doi:10.1001/ jamanetworkopen.2023.13563