Since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown, a significant proportion of people continue to work from home. More employers are now making work from home either permanent for next year or thinking about a hybrid option. Many of the changed dynamics are likely to be in place for at least the next 12 to 18 months, as concerns about COVID-19 remain.

We are learning from several mid-large size employers that work from home has been a mixed bag. While most employees like this option, it has caused physical ‘pain’ for many of them. To find quiet places, people have been using couches, counters, beds and hence developing muscle and joint problems.

These problems are likely to exacerbate with a combination of two interdependent factors – poor working postures and the increase in stress and mental health issues due to virus, commonly linked to persistent symptoms and chronic pain.

If not addressed proactively with conservative treatments, unfortunately many employees with acute and chronic MSK issues will be looking at more interventional treatments downstream such as avoidable surgeries, injections and dangerous drugs.

Employers also talk about the success they have had with the telehealth adoption among their employee population. During this pandemic, employee’s preferences for care access have evolved, and use of telehealth has skyrocketed.

While we don’t know when widespread social distancing will end, it’s safe to say that virtual visits may become our new normal for some time. Further, with declining business activity, expected medical trend and changing macroeconomic conditions – many employers are going to expand cost-effective virtual health options offered to employees.

Virtual MSK care is one of the key options in virtual health that employers should consider for their employees and their family. It addresses the biggest cost category (accounting for upwards of 15-20% of annual medical spend) in most health plans, and has the potential to dramatically improve care, elevate member experience at a lower cost.

What is Virtual MSK care?

Virtual MSK care is NOT physical therapy on a zoom call. Far from it.

Virtual MSK care (VMC) is member-centric, meaning care delivered where members are in their care journey. It seamlessly integrates into the fabric of their already digitized lives.

VMC provides fast access to MSK specialists and identifies the right treatment options for any musculoskeletal issue. It also provides the best communication option (video, phone, messaging or apps) based on the specific nature of musculoskeletal problem, and member preference.

VMC provides end-to-end coverage for all MSK conditions. This includes virtual physical therapy for aches, pains and short-term injury episodes, digital care program for chronic pain, msk triaging to find the right care first-time, and pre/post-surgical rehab.

VMC is holistic and multimodal – and includes both physical and behavioral health. In this model, members are more engaged in their own care, and one-size-fits-all care services are replaced with personalized options — allowing members to choose care on their own terms.

The main mode of communication and problem solving in Virtual MSK care is video chats, messaging, phone calls, treatment plans, app-guided exercises, and education.

A key feature of Virtual MSK care is an open, asynchronous communication channel between member and her therapist. Either can communicate with one another at any time, and It is common for the member to share information in bits and pieces at different points in the evaluation and treatment, sending the therapist through the diagnosis and treatment option cycle multiple times.

Much more so than with traditional care, VMC includes a larger educational component. Because the therapist is not physically present to assist with movements or joint stabilization, the onus is much more on the member to learn these techniques and practice them continually at home.

Here are the top five reasons to add virtual MSK care to your health benefits portfolio.

Convenience

The biggest benefit of using a virtual MSK care is convenience. Whether you’re busy taking care of your kids or you have a day packed full of meetings at work from home, life doesn’t slow down when you get that back pain.

Traditional, in-person appointments can be difficult to fit into a normal workday schedule and many employees don’t want to go and be exposed to the virus in a clinic or office setting. A visit with a virtual therapist is a great option for people who need quick access to care from just about anywhere.

From the member’s point of view, virtual MSK care uses the digital technology they’re already familiar with. There’s nothing daunting about it – especially for those members already comfortable with using existing technology, such as through online shopping or to access entertainment.

Cost-effective

Virtual MSK care is much more cost-effective. Instead of physical therapy in the traditional in-person setting, which is often in the news for over-utilization, virtual care is transparently-priced, meaning it is billed on a per-episode of care or a flat rate for unlimited care.

Because the overall cost is lower than the traditional therapy, several employers are making it available at low-cost to employees.

69% of the employers said in a recent survey that they waived costs for virtual physical therapy during the pandemic. Such initiatives reduce the barriers that employees often face in using physical therapy in a traditional setting.

Higher Quality

Surprisingly, one of the key points about the virtual musculoskeletal care is that the technology isn’t its most important feature. Digital technology simply provides the means of delivery and allows for appropriate access and communication.

Virtual MSK care is all about delivering a single, coordinated, trustworthy musculoskeletal care service, covering the needs of every patient. This model augments human activity, amplifies clinical capacity, and improves efficiency by ushering in a new health care model where machines and members join therapists in the care delivery team.

Unlike traditional synchronous model where your therapy is often limited to ‘scheduled’ in-person sessions, this model provides continuous care, even in-between visits. After your visit ends, sometimes questions arise. You don’t need to go to a clinic just to ask a simple question or pay to have someone watch you exercise.

Improved Engagement and Adherence

Virtual MSK Care enables physical therapists to get real-time insights into patient’s data to see if they are completing their plan, helping them coach them and do more to customize their therapy plans.

The technology platform powering these solutions captures range of motion and other clinical measures. If a patient is off balance or moving incorrectly, for example, the system provides feedback to the patient and flag the issue for their clinician.

This model helps patients better understand their treatment plans and improves adherence to therapy. Since they know their exercises are being tracked, patients are more likely to follow their program.

Integrated, Data-Driven

Virtual MSK care solutions are built on top of integrated, data-driven technology platform. It provides employers and health plans the insights to understand what’s working, and flexibility to change what’s not.

The system leverages intelligence tools to proactively identify members who need recommended care and initiate customizable notifications regarding visits, tests, procedures or other follow-up care . The advanced analytics provide clarity into utilization, who your high-risk employees are and how to intervene effectively proactively to lower costs, improve quality and outcomes.

Currently employers interested in addressing MSK care issues have to assemble a collection of disconnected vendors, ranging from PT, Chiro, Wellness, digital care, second opinions, COE etc. Virtual MSK care platform provides a sustainable, secure, integrated alternative to employers and a consistent experience for employees.

SUMMARY

In summary, virtual musculoskeletal care improves care, outcomes, convenience, and member engagement while reducing costs.This is no longer just an idea. To provide relevant benefits that fit the needs and new lifestyle of their people, employers should consider this in their future plan designs.

Sprite health helps employers and health plans get the most out of their musculoskeletal benefits. Our digital musculoskeletal platform provides a single point of access for all MSK conditions, across the entire MSK continuum. Our virtual physical therapy services provide a more affordable and convenient way to prevent and treat pain. MSK triage ensures that members get help and advice to pick the right treatment at the right time. Chronic pain management provides an evidence-based, PT-led digital program for chronic joint and back pain that includes personalized exercise therapy, behavioral health support, education & guidance. MSK financial management leverages predictive analytics, clinical expertise and plan administration capabilities to eliminate waste – resulting in over 30% net savings in your MSK spend.

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