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November 2023  Volume 21, Number 11        

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Virtual Physical Therapy: An Employer’s Secret Weapon Against Opioids

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across America, taking more than 41 lives per day and costing billions in lost productivity and increased healthcare expenses. As employers seek solutions to keep their workforce safe and productive, virtual physical therapy has emerged as an innovative approach.

The Dangers of Opioids

The impact of widespread opioid addiction and abuse is being felt across industries. Approximately three-quarters of employers report their workforce has been affected in some capacity, whether through side effects like fatigue and confusion or more severe dependence and addiction issues. However, most organizations feel unprepared to properly address this growing crisis.

The trouble frequently begins with prescription painkillers for acute injuries or recovery. While intended only for short-term use, these highly addictive medications can trap patients in a dangerous cycle of dependence, especially those who have chronic musculoskeletal disorders, which affect half of Americans.

Initially, opioids may seem like a straightforward solution for pain management. However, experts caution they rarely treat underlying conditions and often create more harm than good. In addition to the risks of addiction and overdose, typical side effects like impaired cognition frequently reduce worker performance and productivity.

Virtual Physical Therapy Offers Safe, Effective Treatment

Instead of automatically prescribing drugs, medical experts recommend beginning with more conservative therapies like physical therapy. According to one study, digital physical therapy programs alone can decrease opioid prescriptions by up to 42% for chronic pain patients while providing lasting relief.

Virtual physical therapy eliminates obstacles like transportation and inflexible scheduling through mobile and web platforms. This gives individuals access to customized exercise regimens, education, and coaching anytime, anywhere. Treatment plans are tailored to each patient’s specific condition and needs.

Licensed physical therapists supervise virtual sessions and provide personalized feedback and modifications. Patients are guided through activities and exercises designed to improve strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and proper movement patterns. Therapists also advise on pain coping techniques, posture, and ergonomics.

Remote health coaches offer accountability, motivation, and lifestyle guidance. They help patients integrate therapy into daily routines, track progress, and overcome obstacles. Education modules further empower individuals to self-manage their condition.

Experts emphasize that consistency is vital for results. The digital format enables users to easily integrate therapy into daily life and continue progressing independently. It also allows closer tracking of adherence and engagement.

On average, research shows virtual physical therapy reduces pain by 68% while cutting associated mental health issues by nearly half. For employers, this directly translates to less absenteeism and “presenteeism,” where employees are physically present but not fully productive.

An Investment in Workforce Health

Adopting new benefits can be challenging, given limited budgets and a slew of priorities competing for resources. But as the fallout of the opioid epidemic makes clear, chronic pain affects more than just individuals. The ripple effects of lower productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover stemming from unresolved conditions take a tremendous toll on organizations and the bottom line.

While opioids may seem like an inexpensive short-term solution, they rarely provide lasting relief. Instead, over time they often worsen underlying issues while creating additional problems—from mild side effects like fatigue and dizziness to severe dependence and addiction. The costs of these direct and indirect impacts accumulate quickly.

Conversely, virtual physical therapy seems to foster a positive cycle, with employees receiving specialized treatment and employers seeing gains in engagement, retention, and performance. For both parties, digital therapeutics offer superior value across a range of metrics:

  • Increased employee health, well-being, and satisfaction
  • Reduced need for addictive opioid medications
  • Less time away from work and fewer disability claims
  • Higher workforce productivity and reduced presenteeism
  • Decreased turnover leading to substantial savings in hiring and training
  • Stronger company culture and employee loyalty.

Virtual physical therapy also aligns with the growing prioritization of well-being for all generations of the workforce. Providing compassionate, tailored solutions reflects an organization that genuinely listens and cares about its people. This also makes attracting top talent easier.

In many cases, virtual physical therapy may qualify for full or partial insurance coverage, reducing out-of-pocket costs for employees. When viewed holistically, digital therapeutics deliver unparalleled value for employers working to build a thriving, empowered workforce.

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In this issue:

This Just In ... PPACA Penalties Pack a Punch: What Employers Need to Know

Seven Open Enrollment Tips for Communicating Benefits

Virtual Physical Therapy: An Employer’s Secret Weapon Against Opioids

How Smart Employers are Using Second Opinions to Avoid Unneeded Surgeries

Employers Apply Brakes to Runaway Compensation Growth



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