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