Executive Summary

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are a driving force behind healthcare spending, representing an estimated 17% of all spending in the US healthcare market. In addition, MSK conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide.1 Some examples of MSK conditions include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, back and neck pain, and fibromyalgia.2  MSK pain may be acute or chronic, localized or affecting the entire body.3 Additionally, conditions may or may not be related to work, creating an added layer of difficulty in understanding the condition and addressing individual patient needs.

Many models currently exist that attempt to control costs related to MSK conditions. While the vendors providing these programs are confident in their success, it can be difficult for employers to select a program that addresses the needs of all employees with relevant conditions. Therefore, a thorough and ongoing review of organizational health data is necessary. For example, what a hospital needs in an MSK program may vary greatly for an employer operating solely out of an office setting. When reviewing workers’ compensation claims, how many are MSK related? If there is a concern, employers may want to start by implementing ergonomic reviews where the employee works to ensure there is nothing at work that is negatively impacting the employee. Other attempts to address MSK costs focus on care and treatment after the injury or disorder exists such as overall wellness programs, one-on-one coaching, and digital physical therapy offered as an employee benefit.

What is the impact on healthcare spend?

– Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are the top cost driver of healthcare spending, followed by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
– The average health cost per member with MSK condition increased by 40% between 2010 and 2019.
– COVID-19 aggravated this trend as more workers shifted to remote work; 70% of employees with MSK conditions experienced new or increased pain.4
-The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 30% of workers’ compensation injuries fall under MSD.5

As costs have increased, traditional approaches to treating MSK conditions have not shown a corresponding improvement in patient outcomes. This may include surgery, advanced imaging, injections, and pain management.6  It may be time to consider alternative treatment options to appropriately address these rising costs and employee pain levels.

What alternative models exist?

As employers, employees and providers begin to understand that traditional treatment options may not be the best approach for specific cases, alternative approaches have grown in popularity. Workers’ compensation claimants receiving opioids dropped from 55% to 24% between 2012 and 2018, while there was a 131% increase in the use of massage to address chronic pain, a 26% increase in the use of orthotics, and a 15% increase in the use of physical therapy, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).7

Employers who have identified a significant impact of MSK conditions on their claim costs should seek programs that can be added to their benefit offering. There is a large market for these alternative treatment options, some components of which are listed below:

  • Digital physical therapy clinics using wearable technology
  • Pain relief wearable technology
  • Custom physical therapy programs and coaching, in person or remote
  • Case review by leading medical providers
  • Therapy addressing psychology and education of conditions and pain
  • Remote work ergonomics
  • Focus on chronic pain management
  • Corporate wellbeing programs

Specialty MSK vendors track data that implies overall success including a 50% to 70% reduction in pain, 40% to 75% reduction in anxiety and depression, increased adherence and participation in programs, surgery avoidance, and return on investment for employers.

What should I do as an employer interested in an MSK program?

Employers must begin by understanding the cost associated with musculoskeletal conditions within their population, as well as the range of conditions employees may be experiencing. If costs (medical and pharmacy) are significant or increasing, employers should consider alternative programs that would benefit employees and the plan. Identifying a pattern may demonstrate the need for a specific approach like preventive programs or ergonomic assessments.

From there, market research will be necessary to understand pricing and select a vendor with the best program for your population. Spring’s consultants are here to help with market research, claims and data analysis, and/or a Request for Proposal (RFP) process so that you find a solution that best meets your organizational needs.

1https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/00010101/NEWS08/912336312/Musculoskeletal-disorders-in-comp-highlight-prescribing-changes,  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/musculoskeletal-conditions
6State of MSK Report 2021, Hinge Health