Virtual physical therapy apps could save insurers billions in surgery expenses

The news: Digital musculoskeletal (MSK) treatment company RecoveryOne revealed it’s expanding its partnership with Cigna to offer virtual physical therapy (PT) for Medicare Advantage members within the Tennessee market.

More on the Cigna-RecoveryOne partnership: Cigna already offers RecoveryOne’s services to its employer clients—and it’s a longtime investor in the startup.

  • Cigna’s employer clients with 500 or less employees can offer RecoveryOne as a benefit to their enrollees. Users virtually connect with a RecoveryOne physical therapist to conduct chronic pain-relieving exercises.
  • It isn’t surprising Cigna is now expanding its partnership with RecoveryOne, considering it has a vested interest in the physical therapy platform: In 2021 September 2021, Cigna helped pour $33 million into its Series C funding round.

Insurers could save billions on surgery expenditures with digital PT tools: Cigna could recommend RecoveryOne to members before they agree to invasive surgeries for chronic pain, for example.

Some digital therapies minimize the need for expensive surgeries:

  • RecoveryOne’s competitor Kaia Health claims its virtual PT solution had the highest clinically proven outcomes compared with surgery, pain killers, and other treatments, according to a 2020 study.
  • Plus, a virtual PT solution can lead to up to 136% in pain reduction, per Kaia Health.
  • For context, Private insurers spend about $80 billion annually on their members’ low back and neck pain, per a 2020 JAMA study.

What’s next? Virtual PT platforms won’t improve members’ health outcomes unless people stick to the regimens—and adherence rates are a key issue with virtual therapy apps.

  • For context, only 12% of patients prescribed PT begin treatment, and only 20% of patients complete their treatment, per Limber Health.

Combining at-home care in combination with app-based exercises could make PT more accessible and convenient for patients, and in turn, increase adherence.

  • About 42% of US patients say they prefer a hybrid model of in-person and virtual care visits, per a 2021 survey by the Harris Poll.
  • Digital MSK vendors like Kaia Health and Limber Health have already hopped on the hybrid car train—which means it won’t be long before other digital therapy competitors implement a similar strategy to retain customers.