Kiio, a Leader in Digital MSK Therapeutics, Appoints Industry Expert Afsana Akhter as Chief Growth Officer

Afsana Akhter, Chief Growth Officer, KiioMADISON, WI—Kiio, a fast-growing provider of digital musculoskeletal (MSK) solutions, is excited to announce that Afsana Akhter has joined our executive team as Chief Growth Officer. Ms. Akhter brings deep expertise in the digital healthcare market after serving in key leadership roles at Livongo Health, Prealize Health (formerly Cardinal Analytx), and Medullan. She was also the co-founder of SkinIQ – a company that uses AI and machine vision to help people better manage their skin conditions.

“In selecting a Chief Growth Officer, we had a very specific vision. We looked for a leader with an entrepreneurial mindset and a successful track record of collaborating with national health plans and large employers to provide exceptional member and client experiences. Afsana has all of this, and a passion for improving quality of care and access to services,” stated Lydia Zeller, Kiio’s Chief Executive Officer. “This makes her a perfect fit for our growing team.”

Ms. Akhter will lead Kiio’s Sales and Client Success teams to bring the benefits of Kiio’s MSK solutions to millions of people by partnering with employers, health plans, PBMs and other ecosystem partners, as she has done in previous roles. Prior to working in digital health, Afsana worked at Cisco Systems and Mazu Networks, where she led engineering teams in developing and deploying VoIP and cyber security solutions. She holds her Masters in Engineering and Bachelor of Science degrees from MIT and serves as the co-chair of the Healthcare and Life Sciences forum of the MIT alumni organization for Northern California.

Afsana comments, “Kiio has developed a user-friendly, evidence-based solution that remarkably improves pain and function for people with low back pain, a condition which affects 30% of the adult population every year. In addition, Kiio’s solution has demonstrated substantial medical cost savings which have been proven with multiple health plan clients. I’m excited to help Kiio scale during a time when digital healthcare is more important than ever and is gaining rapid adoption.”

Kiio CEO Lydia Zeller adds, “Most people find it surprising that the U.S. spends more on MSK each year than on diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular treatments. Low back pain is the leading cause of opioid prescriptions, and for every 100,000 adults back pain results in $40 million in medical costs. Employers spend an additional $60 million in lost productivity and disability-related claims. Kiio has been proven to help reduce these costs for health plans and employers by providing an effective, timely digital program.”

Afsana Akhter started with Kiio in June and will be based out of Mountain View, California. She joins two other key hires in Q2, including Karen Hitchcock as the Vice President of Marketing and Customer Experience Strategy and Alex Kramer as Director of Product Marketing and Management.


For press inquiries, please contact Karen Hitchcock |
For sales inquiries, contact Afsana Akhter |
For investor inquiries, contact Lydia Zeller |

About Kiio

Kiio is a digital therapeutic company based in Madison, Wisconsin that provides consumer-centric, evidence-based, individualized programs for people with musculoskeletal issues. Kiio’s clients include health insurance companies and large employers.

Download this press release here.

The economic impact of musculoskeletal conditions

1 in 2 Americans suffer from a musculoskeletal condition such as arthritis, back injury, or chronic pain of the knee, hip, neck, or back.  Given the cost of care in the U.S. and the challenges that patients face accessing care for their health conditions, it’s surprising that we aren’t talking about musculoskeletal conditions more often.  The direct cost of care for arthritis and joint pain, alone, is in excess of $580B per year.


A medical condition rarely exists alone.  In other words, most conditions are associated with another diagnosis.   Over 50% of people living with a musculoskeletal condition have at least one comorbidity (a second condition).  For example, there is a 5X higher rate of psychiatric conditions and a 7X higher rate of insomnia.  People living with arthritic back pain, specifically, have a 72% chance of carrying a second diagnosis like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, depression or diabetes.

When we start to factor in secondary costs resulting from associated conditions, and expand the pool to include musculoskeletal injury, that $580B number starts to sky rocket.  Hypertension and depression, for example, have an average cost per patient per year of $9,089 and $8,000, respectively.


In addition to healthcare costs, musculoskeletal conditions come with a huge societal cost, as well.  Musculoskeletal conditions place a large economic burden on employers, as they account for 31% of absenteeism.  Employees with a musculoskeletal condition miss an average of 4.3X more work days than people without, bringing an employer’s cost of musculoskeletal disease to $1,150 per employee per year.


Access to care continues to be a persistent challenge for healthcare consumers, and musculoskeletal conditions are no exception.  The average appointment wait time to see a family physician in the largest cities in the U.S. is 29.3 days.  After a referral to an orthopedic physician has been made, patients wait an additional 11.3 days for that appointment.  Additionally, older people, people living in rural areas, and people whose jobs make it challenging to miss work have an even harder time accessing the right care at the right time for their musculoskeletal conditions. All these factors exacerbate the severity and duration of musculoskeletal conditions.


The use of technology to manage medical conditions has been steadily increasing for over a decade.  For musculoskeletal conditions, telemedicine options were the first to emerge, beginning with synchronous telemedicine solutions (real-time, remote sessions with a clinician).  Asynchronous solutions (store-and-forward sessions) quickly followed suit – where patients and providers have a care encounter via secure messaging.

Continuing the advancement of patient-centric therapy tools, companies like Kiio have taken musculoskeletal care one step further – with self-directed digital therapeutic solutions.  Kiio’s mobile app empowers patients to conveniently access personalized physical therapy programs from any mobile device, anytime, anywhere. As outcomes data continues to show significant improvement in care and economic outcomes, we look to these innovative companies to lead the way to reducing costs and improving care for this population.


Written by Sanaz Cordes, MD March 12, 2020 and published with permission

WEA Trust’s Low Back Pain Study Demonstrates Kiio’s Success in Lowering Costs and Improving Outcomes

WEA Trust Case Study
WEA Trust Case Study

Kiio’s digital therapeutic dramatically cut medical costs by reducing utilization of Emergency & Urgent Care, aggressive treatments & diagnostics, and prescription medication.

Madison, Wis. (March 26, 2019) – WEA Trust and Kiio released the results of a two-year claims data analysis evaluating the impact of Kiio’s digital therapeutic on medical utilization and cost of care for low back pain. WEA Trust began offering Kiio’s digital therapeutic to its public sector employee members in 2018.

Read about the significant improvements experienced by Kiio participants.

Kiio and Quartz Health Solutions’ Low Back Pain Study Demonstrates the Success of Digital Therapeutic in Lowering Costs and Improving Outcomes

Program Dramatically Cut Medical Spending; Reduced Utilization of ED, Urgent Care, Aggressive Treatment and Diagnostics; and Decreased Fills for Opioid Prescriptions


Madison, Wis. (September 10, 2018) – Today, Kiio and Quartz Health Solutions unveiled the results of a one-year study to evaluate the impact of Kiio’s digital program on the challenges presented by low back pain. Low back pain affects one in three American adults every year and costs the U.S. over $100 billion annually. The study demonstrates success improving the lives of patients living with chronic pain while reducing medical spend and the danger of opioids. Quartz offered Kiio to plan members with a history of low back pain. Read about the significant improvements experienced by Kiio participants.

Kiio to present at Pittsburgh Business Group on Health Sept. 6

Low back pain is the number one cause of opioid prescriptions and a leading driver of employment costs.

This is especially relevant given the increasing threat opioids have had on our communities in recent years.

Kiio CEO Dave Grandin and VP Product Strategy Lydia Zeller will present Kiio’s digital solution for back pain Sept. 6th at Pittsburgh Business Group on Health’s 2018 Symposium, Accelerate the New Era of Healthcare.

Dave and Lydia will share details on how Kiio is delivering a 24/7, consumer-centric solution proven to improve health and empower individuals, while reducing use of opioids and aggressive medical treatments. The presentation will include Kiio’s clinical and financial outcomes.

To register for the event, to be held at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, click here.

Digital Solutions for Healthcare’s Major Cost Drivers to be Presented July 31

Kiio, Livongo, Mercer and Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts speak candidly about how digital therapeutics are positively impacting health while averting lost productivity, disability, unnecessary medical costs and even opioid addiction

Boston, Mass (July 24, 2018) – Chronic conditions such as low back pain and diabetes are major drivers of medical and employment costs for employers and health plans. Kiio CEO David Grandin will be presenting at the Annual National Employee Health & Well Being Summit on how digital therapeutics are helping to treat these prevalent and costly medical concerns. For example, Kiio for Low Back Pain is shown to reduce pain, the reliance on opioids, and overall medical spending. Click here to read more about this upcoming panel and the latest news on digital therapies.

How Back Pain Impacts the Bottom Line of American Business

If you are one of the more than 30% of Americans who will suffer a low back pain episode this year, you are all too aware of the impact on your quality of life and pocketbook.

What you may not be aware of is the impact on your employer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), low back pain is a leading health-related economic drain, with annual U.S. costs exceeding $100 billion (yes, billion).  Low back pain is a fixture on the WHO’s top twelve priority disease list not only because of its prevalence and impact on well-being, but also because of its impact on disability and work performance.

Low back pain disproportionately affects workers.  According to the United States Bone and Joint Initiative, 72% of adult low back pain healthcare visits are attributable to those under age 64, with prevalence peaking between the ages of 35 and 55 (WHO).  While certain industries are associated with higher than average back pain, desk workers are not immune.  In fact, 54% of those experiencing low back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting.  Furthermore, back pain is rising in younger workers, who spend an increasing number of hours hunched over tablets and smartphones.

So how does this impact the bottom line of American business?

Medical costs

Medical costs are borne by employers either directly, for those 63% of employers who are fully or partially self-funded, or indirectly, in the form of health insurance premiums.

Low back pain falls in the top three medical cost drivers for most healthcare payers.  Why so high?  It’s the second leading reason for primary care visits, and a significant percentage of patients are prescribed additional diagnostics and services.

What do we get for those dollars?  Unfortunately, not as much as we should expect.

Spending more and achieving less

Prescription rates for opioids, MRI imaging, epidural steroid injections, and spine surgery have climbed significantly over the past twenty years, with a corresponding rise in costs for those services.  But rather than declining in response to increased treatment, functional limitations and disability rates have risen during this same period.  It is only the relative intransparency of healthcare cost-to-benefit ratios that prevents this discordance from receiving the attention it deserves from corporate CFOs, benefits and wellness directors, and small business owners.

In addition to costs directly related to low back pain, sufferers are at increased risk for concurrent health issues, including depression, chronic fatigue, and obesity.  This not only complicates recovery, but also increases costs.  According to researchers at the University of Washington, Oregon Health & Science University, and Dartmouth Medical School, medical costs for individuals with low back pain are about 75% higher than costs for those without back pain.

Impact on worker’s compensation & disability costs

For low back pain, worker’s comp injuries are usually related to ergonomics and over-exertion.  A typical claim for a back injury runs $40,000 to $80,000, according to Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute.

Low back pain is the leading cause of work-related disability in the U.S. (National Institutes for Health).  A 2013 survey found that 30% of chronic back pain sufferers reported filing for disability.  The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a nonprofit workforce health and productivity research and analysis organization, calculates the cost per 100 workers of low back pain-related long- and short-term disability at $11,300 per year.

Hidden employment costs of back pain

Indirect costs include both absenteeism (missed work days) and presenteeism (reduced productivity while at work).  The costs to a business include lost production, idle assets, and benefit and payroll costs.  Absenteeism and presenteeism make up more than two-thirds of the total cost of low back pain to employers, according to IBI.

Low back pain is the leading cause of lost work days and activity limitation (WHO), and is responsible for about 40% of missed work days.  The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that in 2004, 25.9 million persons lost an average of 7.2 days of work due to back pain.  Primary care studies in chronic low back pain patients have found that average loss to be as high as 12 missed work days.

Additional indirect costs to employers include the cost of hiring and training new workers to replace workers temporarily or permanently unable to perform their job functions.  One in five workers are unable to return to work within a month of an episode; one in ten are unable to return within three months, and one in twenty are permanently disabled.  The median cost of replacing a worker?  About 21% of annual salary, according to the American Center for Progress, with costs significantly higher for those making over $75,000 per year and those with specialized education.

What works to reduce corporate costs of employee back pain

In part two of this series, we will look at ways employers can reduce the burden of low back pain on their employees and on their bottom line.

Lydia Zeller is Vice President of Product Strategy. She can be reached at

Opioids and Low Back Pain – Changing the Paradigm

A Rising Epidemic

With more than 30 percent of Americans experiencing an episode every year, it’s no surprise that low back pain is a leading reason for physician visits.

Too often, that visit results in an opioid prescription, leading to low back pain sufferers making up more than half of regular prescription opioid users. According to National Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), opioid prescriptions for back pain have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, without a correlated decrease in the amount of pain reported.

This is problematic for two reasons.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine lists drug overdose as the leading cause of accidental death in 2015 and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reports that opioid prescriptions are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths, with deaths attributed to prescription opioids quadrupling since 1999. The link to heroin and other opioid abuse is also well documented, with over three quarters of abusers reporting their first opioid was prescribed. Even for adherent users, common opioid side effects can be unconducive to good quality of life.

Second, opioids have been clinically proven to be inefficacious for treatment of low back pain. They may temporarily mask pain but they do not expedite return to work or improve functional outcomes in acute low back pain, nor have they been shown effective in long-term management of chronic low back pain.

Evidence-Based Treatment of Low Back Pain

Last month, the American College of Physicians (ACP) issued a clinical practice guideline recommending doctors avoid opioids in the treatment of nonradicular low back pain and instead prescribe exercise, rehabilitation or alternative therapies. This guideline was issued based on an extensive review of peer-reviewed research, including randomized control trials and data from observational studies.

All stakeholders, including providers, healthcare payers and patients, benefit from care that follows treatment pathways grounded in evidence-based best practice. Unfortunately, current treatment practices for low back pain vary widely, often resulting in increased costs and failure to meet outcome goals.

In addition to the ACP recommendations, a body of clinical research exists to provide guidance in the development of evidence-based care pathways. Innovations in care delivery models and technology play an important role as they facilitate practical implementation of evidence-based care and connect stakeholders. We will be talking more about specific research and care delivery innovations in upcoming posts.

A Team Approach

We all have a stake in designing and demanding care that leverages the best that both science and technology offer in delivering value. The shift to a team-based approach has begun, with more patients demanding tools that facilitate active participation in their healthcare as well as insurers and employers increasingly embracing a leadership role as collaborative partners in the wellness of their members and employees.

Using evidence-based care to improve low back pain will result in significantly reduced opioid prescription, reductions in other ineffectual and costly treatment and, most importantly, better results.

Lydia Zeller is Kiio’s Director of Patient Engagement. She can be reached at