9 Ways Employers Waste Money on MSK

Medically reviewed by Beth Holloway, RN, M. Ed

MSK treatment costs are one of the largest benefit spending areas for companies, but they can also be the most variable. By investing in your employees' health, you're reinvesting in your company. This can translate to fewer sick days and doctor visits, better productivity, and even a more positive work environment.

Start evaluating your methods by supporting your employees so they can avoid these common mistakes:

#1 Relying solely on conventional care (single-point)

The approach to healthcare delivery is often “one step at a time,” “one treatment at a time." It usually starts with a primary care physician or self-treatment. Ideally, a doctor or referred specialist can diagnose and treat a problem with just one straightforward method. However, for MSK issues, it's often a longer and more piecemeal approach:

This isn't ideal for people living with MSK pain. It wastes time, resources, and money for both the company and the employee. Instead, it's more important to offer healthcare benefits that simplify the process. At Goodpath, we start with assessments to provide well-rounded, personalized care in both the short- and long- term.

#2 Focusing on a single point of care

If treatment for MSK is anchored on just one approach, like digital physical therapy, it only works for a portion of the employee base. MSK pain can come from posture, diet, stress, habits, health history, and more. 

A multi-modal approach makes for a better benefit strategy. You can choose a balance of benefits to make this happen, such as a digital physical therapy program and nutritional coaching. Goodpath focuses on an integrative approach to health, including PT, nutrition, relaxation, and medicine.

#3: Unnecessary imaging

After an office visit and physical exam, the doctor may order an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. However, the findings of a JAMA study of 2.5 million U.S. patients suggest that not many patients with new low back pain go on to get surgery. They also claim that bringing in imaging tests too early is a factor in overspending.

In fact, physician organizations, like the American College of Physicians, recommend against imaging for those with acute low back pain, except when serious symptoms are present. They indicate that such testing may actually be harmful.

It may be helpful to provide information to employees on how to better partner with their doctors, for example in a lunch-and-learn. The learning session may include “How Tos,” such as communicating with your doctor, making health care decisions, getting second opinions, and finding other resources that can help.

#4: Unnecessary surgery

Although the cost of spinal surgery varies depending on factors like geographic location and networks, most estimates are well into five figures. The same JAMA study of nearly 2.5 million U.S. patients who were diagnosed with low back pain found that while just over 1% had surgery, that 1% accounted for nearly 30% of total 12-month costs.

Some companies are taking proactive approaches to avoid unnecessary surgery. For example, Walmart pays 100% of care for certain medical conditions/treatments (including spinal surgery) at selected top-tier hospitals, as well as all travel costs for the employee and one companion.

In one case, a local surgeon recommended spinal surgery for a Walmart employee. The individual was able to travel to one of the top-tier hospitals for a second opinion where the doctors determined there was a misdiagnosis and recommended against surgery. After getting the correct medical treatment, he improved and was able to return to work. That's a win for both Walmart and the employee.

While a program like Walmart may not be possible for your company, you can still provide information to employees that helps them to make optimal healthcare decisions.

#5: Not supporting work-from-home environment

Employees may have ergonomic workstations in the office, but what happens when they can't be in the office? Home workspaces often have less than ideal ergonomics and may contribute to existing MSK problems or cause new ones. 

Don't know where to start? We have your employees covered with the must-have guide for an ergonomic home workspace. Try offering a stipend or allowing employees to bring home certain items. You could even offer a webinar on how to create a setup at home.

#6: Not providing enough options to treat pain

When there's a symptom like minor pain, people often think  "I should go see my doctor." However, there may be self-care measures that can help. 

MSK pain may not require a doctor’s visit. An integrative approach that includes herbal supplements, over-the-counter products, gentle exercise, and relaxation techniques can ease the pain that occurs with short-term MSK problems. It can be difficult for employees to know where to begin, and offering benefits like Goodpath is a good choice.

#7: Not addressing pain

In the Goodpath Employer Health Index, we discovered that two out of three people who completed our back pain assessment haven't seen their primary care physician about their pain. They may hesitate for various reasons: the pain will go away, it’s not that bad, I don’t have time...

However, the pain may not actually go away and could get worse. Offering solutions that make it easy to get help and making PCP visits affordable and accessible is helpful. Don’t forget to also encourage employees to use their paid-time-off benefits for unscheduled doctor visits.

#8: Putting off treatment

Avoiding or procrastinating on treatment can create more problems as pain gets worse, potentially creating a lower quality of life and increasing spend on possibly preventable issues. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, half of Americans skipped or delayed medical care between February and May 2020 according to a Kaiser poll. Putting off treatment for MSK issues will not make it go away; encourage employees to use their medical benefits to the fullest potential and staying in touch with their PCP.

#9: Lack of support

People dealing with MSK issues do not generally have as clear a path to recovery as people with diagnosable problems. Because many solutions may need to be tried before a treatment (or some combination) works, it's possible for employees to feel helpless.

Maintaining a positive attitude and feeling hopeful may create better physical outcomes. There will be days where even the most driven person won't want to do the work involved, and that's where a trained health coach could be helpful. At Goodpath, our health coaches not only keep members accountable, but they stay in touch to make sure they're feeling encouraged.

The Bottom Line

At Goodpath, we know how difficult it can be to manage common conditions, and we're here to help your employees feel their best. We focus on the whole person and create a plan to meet their short- and long-term needs for musculoskeletal, sleep, and digestive health.

We can implement our benefit in less than two weeks from first introductions to enrollment. Learn more about how Goodpath can help at goodpath.com/employer.