Over the past three years, the healthcare industry has experienced several paradigm shifts that have fundamentally reshaped our approach to medical care. One of these key shifts is the rise of telemedicine. What started as a necessary alternative to traditional in-person care during the pandemic has now become a staple in the healthcare system. The benefits to this shift are clear. By reducing barriers and improving convenience, telehealth makes medical care more accessible to an estimated 89 percent of U.S. adults who own a smartphone (HBR, 2022). As this model continues to improve how care is accessed and delivered—all the while improving patient engagement and costs—we can be confident that telemedicine is here to stay, especially when it comes to MSK care.
Uniting telemedicine and MSK care
Traditional musculoskeletal (MSK) treatment can be a lengthy process. The healing journey often requires several follow-up visits with medical doctors, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals. This can be difficult for patients who must travel to their clinician's office for each appointment, disrupting busy work and family schedules. Unsurprisingly, inconvenience is one of the leading factors contributing to poor MSK plan adherence (Holt, 2020).
Thankfully these visits do not necessarily have to be in person. Virtual MSK care is growing in popularity, benefiting both those in need of immediate evaluation (such as for the new onset of low back pain) as well as individuals requiring longer-term treatment for chronic issues. MSK clinicians are building off the pandemic’s 63-fold increase in telemedicine utilization and delivering an alternative care system that offers greater convenience and cost-savings without compromising quality of care (ASPE, 2021).
A measurable impact on MSK employee benefits
As this new approach to MSK care takes off, employers are set to benefit. A recent survey reported that 39 percent of more than 100 large employers plan to incorporate virtual MSK care services into their enrollee health plans in 2023 (BGH, 2021). In fact, MSK care as a whole is projected to adopt telehealth services at a greater pace than any other specialty (BGH, 2021). This is largely due to the financial benefits resulting from a highly convenient care delivery system that maximizes member engagement and provides effective relief with evidence-based, non-surgical solutions.
Key reasons why technology can cut the cost of MSK care
MSK care carries an expensive price tag for employers and plan enrollees. The most recent U.S. healthcare spending data attribute $380.9 billion to MSK conditions—a financial burden greater than heart disease and cancer combined (Dieleman, 2020). With one out of every two U.S. adults suffering from an MSK condition, the cost of care adds up quickly for all involved (El-Tallawy, 2021).
So how can telehealth solve these compounding problems? As shown in a recent healthcare consumer experience survey by Accenture, telehealth lines up with the expectations of today’s patients and the factors driving choice (Accenture, 2023). Several key features position telehealth as a preferred MSK care delivery model to both improve outcomes and costs, including:
What drives choice of medical care? In the Accenture survey, 71 percent of patients ranked access at the top of the list for clinician selection (Accenture, 2023). Rather than waiting weeks or even months to meet with a doctor, patients expect to be seen and treated right away. Telehealth offers immediate access to doctors and physical therapists, a greater selection of appointment times, and the ability to treat most MSK conditions right at home. This up-front access can prevent delayed treatment—lessening the likelihood of developing more complicated issues that could interfere with an individual’s quality of life and balloon the total cost of care.
71 percent of patients ranked access at the top of the list for clinician selection (Accenture, 2023).
Ease of use
According to the Accenture survey, 80 percent of patients switch to new clinicians because of poor quality of care and a lack of adequate digital solutions (Accenture, 2023). Patient-centered telehealth solutions easily meet this need, especially when they bring together multiple clinicians into a single accessible platform. Through this approach, telehealth can achieve what would normally take months via the traditional healthcare model. In just one video visit, patients can get a jumpstart on their care journey without wasting time on separate appointments just to get acquainted with each clinician.
80 percent of patients switch to new clinicians because of poor quality of care and a lack of adequate digital solutions (Accenture, 2023).
Increased trust and engagement
Digitally engaging with clinicians builds a level of trust that can be difficult to achieve with brief face-to-face appointments. And the numbers agree—90 percent of patients completely trust their digital providers, whereas only 57 percent fully trust their in-person providers (Accenture, 2023). This deep patient-provider connection builds the foundation for increased adherence to treatment plans and clinical guidance.
90 percent of patients completely trust their digital providers, whereas only 57 percent fully trust their in-person providers (Accenture, 2023).
Additionally, telehealth makes it easier for patients to interact in a comfortable environment—a factor shown to improve treatment adherence. One study evaluating the efficacy of home-based exercise programs for knee osteoarthritis found a significant correlation between patient adherence and pain reduction (Makarm, 2021). These patients experienced improved long-term outcomes and a better quality of life, resulting in lower healthcare utilization.
Value-based, outcomes-focused care
By providing easy access to non-operative MSK specialists, telehealth can also shield patients from the top two contributors to skyrocketing costs: inappropriate imaging and surgeries. In the traditional model, general practitioners (who are often the first stop for patients experiencing muscle and joint pain) prescribe magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for MSK diseases more than any other condition; however, one study found that only 4.9 percent of these scans were clinically necessary (Sajid, 2021). And the steep costs do not stop there. If an MRI reveals a clinical abnormality, the next step for traditional MSK spine and orthopedic surgeons may be surgery, many of which are also unnecessary. This series of events snowballs the cost of care into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If patients turn to telemedicine with doctors trained in non-surgical care, they can meet with an entire team of clinicians working together to improve outcomes and prevent a trip to the operating room in the first place.
Telehealth can shield patients from the top two contributors to skyrocketing costs: inappropriate imaging and surgeries.
Combining technology with personalized MSK care
Most MSK issues are multifactorial in nature. They are often related to factors beyond joints and muscles, including an individual’s lifestyle, nutrition, sleep patterns, stress levels, and more. Patients see the most improvement when their clinicians create highly individualized treatment protocols that target root causes, not just symptoms.
Vori Health employs this approach with its unique virtual-first care team model. Patients receive care from a team of experts including a specialty non-operative MSK physician, physical therapist, health coach, and registered dietitian (nutritionist). Each clinician brings a different perspective to the table, providing patients with evidence-based, whole-person support. When combined with the convenience of telehealth, this type of personalized MSK care drives better outcomes by meeting patients where they are and attacking MSK conditions from all sides. Indeed, Vori Health’s care pathways have been validated to reduce surgery, imaging and injections while also improving pain.
Is telemedicine for MSK more affordable?
Yes! Telemedicine is considerably more affordable than traditional MSK care. Part of those savings are earned by reducing unnecessary treatments (especially surgery) and imaging. There is also the added convenience of being treated at home, which is likely to increase member engagement and long-term outcomes. Additionally, most telehealth services are priced transparently with either a flat rate or a per-service fee—another reason why more and more employers and health plans are choosing to cover virtual MSK services.
We believe that every patient deserves to have the best resources at their fingertips. This means state-of-the-art, non-invasive care that supports the whole person, not just the problem area. With Vori Health, you can offer your plan enrollees higher-quality MSK care that generates significant cost-savings for both you and your employees.
Talk to us to learn how our digital solutions can lower your costs and better care for your team.
- HBR, 2022: Pearl R and Wayling B. (2022, May-June). The Telehealth Era Is Just Beginning. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2022/05/the-telehealth-era-is-just-beginning?registration=success
- Holt, 2020: Holt CJ, McKay CD, Truong LK, Le CY, Gross DP, Whittaker JL. Sticking to It: A Scoping Review of Adherence to Exercise Therapy Interventions in Children and Adolescents With Musculoskeletal Conditions. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 2020;50(9):503-515.
- ASPE, 2021: Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation Office of Health Policy Research Report. (December 2021). Medicare Beneficiaries’ Use of Telehealth in 2020: Trends by Beneficiary Characteristics and Location, https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/a1d5d810fe3433e18b192be42dbf2351/medicare-telehealth-report.pdf
- BGH, 2021: Business Group on Health. (2021). 2021 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey, https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/en/resources/2021-large-employers-health-care-strategy-and-plan-design-survey
- Dieleman, 2020: Dieleman JL, Cao J, Chapin A, Chen C, Li Z, Liu A, Horst C, Kaldjian A, Matyasz T, Scott KW, Bui AL, Campbell M, Duber HC, Dunn AC, Flaxman AD, Fitzmaurice C, Naghavi M, Sadat N, Shieh P, Squires E, Yeung K, Murray CJL. US Health Care Spending by Payer and Health Condition, 1996-2016. JAMA 2020;323(9):863-884.
- El-Tallawy, 2021: El-Tallawy SN, Nalamasu R, Salem GI, LeQuang JAK, Pergolizzi JV, Christo PJ. Management of Musculoskeletal Pain: An Update with Emphasis on Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain. Pain and Therapy 2021;10:181-209.
- Accenture, 2023: Accenture. (2023). Healthcare experience: The difference between loyalty and leaving, https://www.accenture.com/content/dam/accenture/final/industry/health/document/Accenture-Humanizing-Healthcare-Experience-Payer-Provider-Health-PoV.pdf
- Sajid, 2021: Sajid IM, Parkunan A, Frost, K. Unintended consequences: quantifying the benefits, iatrogenic harms and downstream cascade costs of musculoskeletal MRI in UK primary care. BMJ Open Quality 2021;10(3).
- Makarm, 2021: Makarm WK, Sharaf DM, Zaghlol RS. Impact of home exercise program on self-efficacy and quality of life among primary knee osteoarthritis patients: a randomized controlled clinical study. Egyptian Rheumatology and Rehabilitation 2021;48(28).