According to health care provider and benefits manager Optum, about 25% of healthcare costs in the United States are driven by four care categories. Heart disease is the first, coming in at around $181 billion, and the second is musculoskeletal care, at a cool $130 billion. 20% of US adults experience chronic pain, and it costs employers $20 billion per year — around 17% of their healthcare budgets.
At the same time, employers are increasingly hiring and maintaining a 100% remote or hybrid workforce. We’re also seeing an increase in telehealth and virtual healthcare providers. As this Benefits Pro article says, our current healthcare system makes it pretty tough for employees — and employers — to navigate the healthcare system and get access to care that’s both expert and timely.
Virtual care options may be the way to eliminate that complexity — and the new era of virtual care is focused on delivering high-quality solutions beyond primary and urgent care telemedicine. Many of our partners are making moves to offer these solutions in an effort to support and engage employees in new ways.
One of these virtual care companies is SWORD Health, a provider of virtual physical therapy for individuals suffering from acute, chronic, or post-surgical pain. Virtual physical therapy is quickly becoming a “need to have” for employers as part of a health benefits package, so we spoke to Luke Fuzard, SWORD’s Senior Director of Partnerships, to learn more about SWORD, how it works, and what he sees for the future of virtual care:
Tell us a bit about SWORD Health. What service does the company provide, and how does it help employers?
SWORD Health is a provider of virtual physical therapy for individuals suffering from acute, chronic, or post-surgical pain. The classic use case I give is of my 66-year-old father who slipped on the ice this winter and tore his MCL. Following his surgery, my father wasn’t super interested in having to find someone to drive him to a physical therapist’s office three days a week as part of his prescribed rehabilitation.
Additionally, he was concerned about rising COVID-19 transmission rates and thus was avoiding indoor activities. As a result, he enrolled in SWORD’s virtual physical therapy program and a week later received a personalized kit shipped directly to his home. Inside the kit was a tablet—similar to a Kindle—alongside a series of sensors.
Three days a week he would boot up the tablet, strap on the sensors, and go through a full series of exercises prescribed by a Physical Therapist. The tablet walked him through each exercise and the sensors were able to determine his range of motion. The data the sensors generated was then fed back to his Physical Therapist who would adjust his program accordingly. After several weeks, my Dad was back riding his bike and resuming his standard activities prior to the knee injury.
How does SWORD work from an employer’s perspective? Can it be integrated into a company’s medical or health/wellness benefits for its employees?
The primary purchasers of SWORD’s services are self-insured employers who make virtual physical therapy available to their employees at no cost. The ROI calculation those employers are making is that by offering at-home physical therapy and allowing employees to get healthy, the employers are offsetting the chance of expensive future interventions like workplace accidents or invasive surgeries.
For example, let’s say you’ve got 3,000 employees in your company, and of that number, 150 are SWORD users. Even with 5% of your employees using SWORD’s PT service, it has the ability to save you nearly $500,000 in healthcare costs.
Why is in-home physical therapy so important? Besides the care for diagnosed issues, is there a preventative care aspect as well?
Yes, SWORD recently unveiled a preventive care aspect of the service to teach employees good habits such as proper lifting technique, muscle stretching, and more. These preventative measures will hopefully reduce the chances of a more serious intervention later on.
What are the other benefits of in-home PT besides the obvious relief from pain and discomfort?
The most obvious benefit is the ability to complete the exercises at the time and location of the employee’s choosing. There’s no having to wait for an appointment or to have to travel to an appointment — which is a huge benefit for those of us juggling work and families.
Why is it important in your opinion that companies offer benefits like this to employees, especially as remote and hybrid work is here to stay for many companies?
As mentioned above, there are the obvious cost-benefit calculations employers are making that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. On top of that, The Great Resignation has created an unprecedented war for good talent in the marketplace. As a result, employers need to get smart on what incentives they’re offering to new employees (while keeping the existing employees happy). I see employers putting greater and greater emphasis on accommodating the new work-from-home norm.
As someone who is immersed in the employee healthcare benefit space, can you tell us what else you’re seeing in the industry, or what you feel the challenges are as these kinds of services start to become more commonplace?
The employee benefits space is always innovating and every day I am amazed by a new technology that is arising to address a health challenge, whether it be diabetes, gut health, and even cancer. The challenge for employers is how to keep track of them all and understand which ones are the “real deal.” That’s where a group like Carex can help point them in the right direction not only with talent but also with cool emerging companies.
To learn more about SWORD Health, head here: https://swordhealth.com/business