8 Tips for Selecting Digital Musculoskeletal Benefits

Based on my experience as a Willis Towers Watson Medical Director and musculoskeletal (MSK) care expert advising employer benefits leaders on the right solutions to choose, here are my tips for selecting the right digital MSK vendor.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2021

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dr. Louis Dickey
Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dr. Louis Dickey, Medical Director of Hinge Health, has over 40 years in the medical field as well as more than 10 years of benefits consulting. In his previous role as a consultant at Willis Towers Watson and his former role as a Senior Medical Director for National Accounts at Aetna, Dr. Dickey has worked with public, private, and hospital employers and their respective account teams to develop health care strategies and initiatives, programs and vendor assessments, and improvements and enhancements of their current programs and initiatives.

When it comes to musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, Americans are frustrated with their care experiences. We recently surveyed 1,000 people with moderate to severe MSK issues who work for companies that aren’t Hinge Health customers nor did they have any other digital MSK solution in place.

The results of that survey highlighted several insights into member’s perspective on their MSK care:

- MSK pain is a common and persistent problem. Two out of three survey respondents had an MSK condition for over a year.

- Clinicians aren’t looking at the whole picture. Half of the survey participants felt that their medical information history gets lost when they see multiple providers and three in four felt that they received very little holistic advice about the lifestyle changes needed for their MSK recovery. More than three quarters of survey respondents (87%) said they would get better care if their provider looked at their care holistically, including medical history, lifestyle, mental health, and other care providers

- People want a more integrated MSK care team. Three in four survey respondents indicated that they want a health coach as part of their care team to support them in making difficult lifestyle changes that would improve MSK outcomes. A fully-integrated MSK care team would include physical therapists, health coaches, physicians, and orthopedists, collaborating and sharing information. This approach can help deliver friction-free healthcare experiences.

To address employee MSK issues, many companies are exploring digital MSK benefit programs. Not all of these offerings are created equal, however. With our survey results in mind, let’s explore eight ways to select a digital MSK benefit program that will best meet the needs of your workforce. Based on my experience as a Willis Towers Watson Medical Director and MSK expert for over 10 years advising employer benefits leaders on the right solutions to choose, here are my tips for selecting the right MSK vendor:

1. Look for programs that provide care throughout a member’s MSK journey. Ideally, a digital MSK benefit will focus on the entire continuum of care from prevention to acute, chronic, and all the way to surgery rehab. Ask whether the digital benefit offers virtual expert opinions to guide members away from expensive and unnecessary surgeries and to ensure that their surgery is appropriate. If members do require surgery, you’ll want your digital MSK benefit provider to work with the member to help them get to a high-performing provider and Center of Excellence. This can help the member to have a seamless experience and receive high quality, low cost surgery. Certain types of care can be optimally delivered digitally like at-home physical therapy. However, other types of care like surgery or procedures require integration with in-person providers.

2. Provide a holistic approach to MSK care. Be sure to take a deep dive into the digital MSK benefit’s philosophy. As our survey respondents noted, they want providers to look at the whole picture. Research shows that simply prescribing physical therapy or surgery alone is unlikely to resolve MSK pain. Leading medical bodies indicate that a holistic approach to MSK pain is the gold standard for effective results, especially chronic MSK pain. This means focusing on the influences that biological, psychological, and social factors have on overall health. The biological component focuses on the physiology underlying the body’s health. The psychological component focuses on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influencing health. The social component addresses the ways that society and culture can influence how people view their health.

3. Ask whether the program includes an integrated and holistic clinical care team. Physical injuries aren’t isolated from the rest of the body. They are connected to diet, stress, lifestyle, and mental health. Physical therapists can play a central role in reducing MSK pain, but a complete care team also includes physicians, orthopedists, and behavioral health coaches. Behavioral health coaches, for example, motivate and hold program participants accountable for high levels of engagement and adherence. They also spur behavior change through personalized guidance related to goal setting, overcoming barriers, and tools that can aid with managing stress, diet, or weight.

4. Look for a care team paired with advanced digital technology. This combination makes it easy and convenient for members to access care whenever and wherever they are. Motion sensors and computer vision technology can provide real-time feedback and the most comprehensive view to the member and their physical therapist/coach about their activity, including alerting the member if they aren’t doing a movement correctly or if they aren’t doing them at all. Groundbreaking, innovative technologies can redefine care, such as wearable technologies for pain management that are non-invasive and non-addictive. All-in-one apps with daily exercise therapy and educational materials should be easy-to-use and downloadable to personal devices or tablets. Everything should work straight out of the box.

5. Ensure that the member experience is both seamless and personalized. As you evaluate digital MSK benefit programs, consider what the member experience is like end-to-end. Is it easy to access, is care personalized to the member’s unique needs, is the technology easy-to-use? It’s also advisable to check out Apple and Google app store ratings for the solution to see if users love the app.

6. Determine whether digital and in-person providers are integrated. Innovative digital care vendors bridge the digital and physical worlds of care real-time versus delays associated with integration via claims. Ask your digital benefits vendor whether it integrates and shares data seamlessly with members’ in-person providers via the EMR. Access to a member’s past medical history, for example, will enable digital care providers to personalize care. Access to real-time data will support interventions by both digital and in-person providers to drive better outcomes.

7. Ask about the vendor’s track record and proven outcomes. Look for validated data which prove that the digital benefits program has generated medical claims savings across multiple employers. It’s also important to look for proven outcomes in your industry and for your population. Finally, look for proven clinical outcomes in large-scale and long-term randomized control clinical studies published in peer-reviewed journals.

8. Confirm whether the implementation process is easy and has been effective at other organizations. Ask about the vendor’s ecosystem and health plan partners. If your health plan already has a partnership with the vendor, you can do all your contracting and billing through the health plan, resulting in a seamless experience and faster deployment. This also allows you to skip a separate and potentially lengthy RFP and contracting process. Inquire about the length of the average implementation and the vendor’s level of enterprise readiness. Ideally, the vendor will have hundreds of implementations, including many from your industry that you can speak to during reference calls. You want to partner with a solution that’s tried and tested for enterprise organizations, rather than being a guinea pig. Finally, look for consistent member enrollment data and a proven member marketing program to get the right people engaged at the right time. Vendors should have a customizable marketing program for their digital MSK benefit which will drive enrollment through campaigns designed to fit your unique needs.

Hinge Health has pioneered the world’s most patient-centered Digital MSK Clinic and four out of five employers with a digital MSK solution choose us. To learn more, feel free to request a demo.