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  • Dr. Kristen K. Schulte, PT

The Next Cost-Saving Tool for Business

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

There is much uncertainty with the American Health Care Act, and great scrutiny is being given to a proposed provision that could remove the obligation businesses have to provide insurance for employees. This seemingly would be a victory for businesses, which no longer would have this expense in their budgets.

But another provision could raise premiums for individuals. This could mean they won't be able to afford the care they need, leading to chronic illnesses and plenty of missed work. That would surely cost businesses in the end.

But with these two steps, businesses can ensure their savings from no longer providing health insurance are not lost to lost productivity — change the corporate wellness focus from lifestyle management to disease management, and with some of the money you'll save, hire a physical therapist. Lifestyle management is modifying employee diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. Disease management is targeting at-risk or chronically ill employees to manage their conditions and keep them healthy.

An estimated 75-80 percent of office workers suffer from low back pain; the number suffering from neck pain is estimated to be much more. Spinal pain is the most common musculoskeletal cause for unscheduled time off. The good news is chronic spinal pain can be treated by a physical therapist. The Centers for Disease Control endorses physical therapy as the first line of defense (before injections, medications or surgery) in fighting chronic pain, especially in its 2016 campaign against opioid abuse in the United States.

Common low back ailments that can be treated with skilled physical therapy include, but are not limited to, herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, fractures, osteoarthritis osteoporosis and general chronic low back pain. Physical therapy can help with similar conditions of the neck and also treat headaches and radiculopathies, as these conditions often stem from musculoskeletal origins.

Physical therapists also are trained to screen for more serious conditions that appear to be spinal pain.

This individualized program a physical therapist can provide can help employees avoid serious health issues that will cost even more money and time as the illness becomes more serious.

If the Affordable Care Act is not repealed and replaced, and employers still provide health insurance for employees, businesses should still seriously consider moving to a disease management program with a physical therapist. A 2013 study by Fritz et al. found when patients with low back pain were treated with physical therapy before considering injections, medication or surgery, the patients experienced better outcomes and incurred lower medical costs.

According to a 2014 study conducted by the Rand Corporation that examined 10 years of data from Fortune 500 companies, businesses that implemented disease management programs, as opposed to lifestyle management, had a higher return on investment, saving the companies an average of $136 per person, per month.

Taking the steps to turn a corporate wellness program into one aimed at disease management does not need to be costly or difficult. Better employee health and productivity as well as a positive return on investment does not have to be in the hands of lawmakers. While they decide how disease should be managed financially, it is time for businesses to commit to preventing disease, all the while gaining financial benefit.

1. Purcell J. Meet the wellness programs that save companies money. Harvard Business Review Web site. Published 2016. Updated 2016. Accessed Jan 28, 2017.

2. Mattke S, Liu H, Caloyeras J, et al. Do workplace wellness programs save employers money. Rand Corporation Research Brief. 2014.

3. Orendorff A. Sitting at your desk all day is a real problem. Entrepreneur. 2016.

4. Hammill J, Cook T, Rosecrance J. Effectiveness of physical therapy regimen in the treatment of tension-type headaches. Journal of Head and Face Pain. 1996;36(3):14.

5. Health center on opioid use for pain management. Move Forward PT. 2016.

6. Physical therapist's guide to low back pain. Published 2011. Updated 2015. Accessed Jan 29, 2017.

7. Fritz J, Brennan J, Hunter S, Magel J. Initial management decisions after a new consultation for low back pain: Implications of the usage of physical therapy for subsequent health care costs and utilization. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2013;94(5):808.

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