The world has disproportionally changed in the last 6 months. While the impact of Covid-19 has been felt everywhere in the US, the fallout from the pandemic clearly shows that some segments of our society, in particular, BIPOC communities have felt a disproportionate share of the disruption—from mortality to unemployment.
BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. While the diversity of the American population is one of our greatest assets, one big challenge is reducing the profound disparity in the health status of the BIPOC community as compared to the population as a whole. It is well documented that people of color suffer worse outcomes from all common chronic conditions. The pandemic has only magnified these structural and systemic inequities.
The situation is no different in musculoskeletal (MSK) care. Research finds that BIPOC Americans with MSK conditions tend to attend PT less in outpatient therapy settings, inpatient settings, and in-home care. The failure to access physical therapy services for rehabilitation often leads to poorer functional outcomes. This population segment also has higher utilization of emergency services for basic musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries, which essentially is a waste.
Unfortunately working from home during the pandemic is likely to exacerbate this problem. Not all is good and well when it comes to remote working. There is a huge uptick in musculoskeletal pain (such as the back, neck, hip, knee, and shoulder pain) among all people working from home.
Employees are finding it really difficult to self-manage their conditions due to physical distancing, isolation, and risks in accessing healthcare services. The BIPOC workers are likely to see worse outcomes with these makeshift workspaces. This population is typically employed in different jobs, is more overweight than others, has higher co-morbidities, has a sedentary lifestyle, and is less equipped with ergonomic furniture at home.
REDESIGNING MSK CARE THAT MEETS THE NEEDS OF EVERYONE
Given the systemic issues, the benefits leaders have an important role to play in providing the right types of benefits that address the specific needs of everyone including black, brown, and other marginalized employees. This requires a deeper understanding of underlying factors that act as barriers to care.
For example – traditional, in-person appointments are difficult to fit into a normal workday schedule for the low-income working population. Depending upon travel time and an hour-long visit, an employee can lose two hours of his/her work day. Avoiding that scenario means scheduling an appointment before or after work hours, which is often not possible in most clinics.
In addition, physical therapy and chiropractor clinics are not conveniently located for BIPOC Americans. Many of them have to take long bus rides, arrange time off work and perhaps find childcare, which is quite difficult and cost-prohibitive for them. On top, rising deductibles and excessive cost-sharing requirements in traditional medical plans make it almost impossible for them to complete the treatment regimen – which leads to a higher level of non-adherence.
By understanding the factors that present a barrier to care for people of color, changes can be made to ensure that the right kind of musculoskeletal benefits is available to all people who may likely benefit from them.
A DIGITAL, PERSONALIZED APPROACH TO MUSCULOSKELETAL (MSK) CARE
A comprehensive multi-pronged strategy is a key to effectively addressing the complex problem of persistent musculoskeletal health disparities. This strategy is built on first principles that address two things – a) provide high-quality musculoskeletal (MSK) care to ALL of their people, anywhere and anytime, and b) reduce the cost by eliminating waste.
Virtual MSK care solution delivers on that promise and provides an opportunity to offer increased access to musculoskeletal (MSK) care in multiple ways to meet people where they are. It removes traditional accessibility and availability issues and makes it possible for BIPOC employees to have easier access to care through a 30-45 minutes virtual visit, at a time convenient for them.
The personalized approach used by leading-edge digital therapeutic companies combines the convenience of smartphones with evidence-based interventions to address chronic pain and provides a better alternative to traditional, clinic-based therapy, thereby saving time, money, and disability.
Unlike traditional fragmented care, the digital MSK solution such as Sprite Health provides a broad whole person, multimodal treatment approach (combining physical and psychological therapies) to address multiple aspects of chronic pain – outside of the costly, traditional, care pathways.
In addition to providing a single point of access for all musculoskeletal conditions, Sprite Health’s digital MSK solution provides culturally concordant education to all members that address the importance of increased activity in decreasing MSK pain. The solution also incorporates tools that bring a greater clinical nuance into benefit and incentive design, including reducing or eliminating the cost-sharing requirements for high-value care.
In conclusion, the benefits leaders should invest in solutions that provide tailored support for employees who are most impacted. Virtual musculoskeletal care is one such example that can make access to care personalized, accessible, equitable, and bridge the digital divide.
Sprite health helps employers and health plans get the most out of their musculoskeletal benefits. Our digital musculoskeletal pain program 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.