By DR. STEVEN A. GEST, M.D., Founder and CMO

About 100 million working-age American adults suffer from non-cancer chronic pain, and it costs American employers $635 billion each year. According to a study published by the National Academies Press, this estimate includes both direct costs of medical care and indirect costs due to lost productivity.

We know by now what doesn’t work for managing chronic pain. Our current opioid abuse crisis has shown that long-term use of strong prescription painkillers is a bad idea. According to the CDC, nearly 2 million Americans were abusing or dependent on opioid painkillers in 2014 – an epidemic with its own devastating costs.

It’s time for a new approach. An occupational health approach to chronic pain management – one that works with your workplace wellness program to integrate workers’ care and gives them effective telehealth and telemedicine tools to manage the causes and triggers of their own pain – can substantially reduce those medical costs and productivity losses. And these systems are getting smarter by the day, using artificial intelligence to track, manage and coordinate pain management care.

Chronic Pain Management: An Occupational Health Approach

Corporate wellness programs that incorporate occupational health principles can go a long way toward decreasing chronic pain in workers. Guidelines from the American Occupational Therapy Association recommend:

  • Identifying underlying causes of pain. Occupational health professionals can help workers identify activities and behaviors that cause pain.
  • Providing pain management alternatives. Once an occupational health professional has identified causes and triggers of pain, they can provide specific strategies to decrease the number and duration of pain episodes, and specific therapeutic interventions that reduce workers’ dependence on pain medications.
  • Improving overall health status. Many behavioral and lifestyle factors affect chronic pain. A corporate wellness program that guides workers in following a healthy diet, getting enough quality rest, and participating in regular exercise program will have a positive lasting effect on many causes of chronic pain. Occupational health professionals can help workers identify individual causes of chronic pain and bring in appropriate specialist providers that will guide the worker towards personalized solutions. An example: someone with a chronic knee pain may not be able to take up jogging, but an experienced physical therapist or personal trainer may suggest other exercises that will work, for example, swimming or resistance training.

Health Interventions Beyond the Workplace

Chronic pain management strategies must be incorporated into workers’ lives outside the workplace, over an extended period of time. But employers and healthcare providers can’t stand in a worker’s kitchen every night for six months offering guidance like: “How about a salad with that pizza?” or “You know, there are aqua-aerobics classes tonight at the gym.” What you can do is give workers the tools they need to manage their own health anywhere, at any time, by providing telehealth and telemedicine solutions as part of your comprehensive workplace wellness program. Interested in learning about GoHealthNow corporate wellness programs? Book a demo.

Telehealth and telemedicine techniques provide portable, integrated health management for individuals with chronic conditions, including chronic pain. Workers can access health services through call centers, video conferencing, and web-based platforms. Artificial intelligence systems combine relationship and resource planning to simplify medical data collection, streamline recordkeeping across platforms, and offer relevant diagnostic, treatment, and management options to health care professionals and patients. A patient can record pain levels on his cell phone, and can then give access to a health care professional who can make recommendations and offer guidance through the same platform.

Evidence is accumulating that these programs work and that employees like them:

  • A comprehensive review of electronically-delivered cognitive behavior therapies for chronic pain management published by the Cochrane Libraries found that the programs reduced pain, disability, depression, and anxiety in individuals with non-headache conditions, and that the effects persisted three to twelve months after therapy sessions discontinued.
  • Another study found that veterans suffering chronic musculoskeletal pain who received 12 months of telehealth management as part of their care reported significantly reduced pain compared to a control group that received only traditional, face-to-face care.
  • A study of more than 17,000 veterans enrolled in a care coordination/home telehealth (CCHT) program found that participants significantly reduced hospital admissions and length-of-stay. Even more importantly, the participants gave the program a satisfaction score of 86 percent.

If your workers are suffering from chronic pain, their productivity is suffering, too. There are more sustainable solutions than prescription painkillers. Through your workplace wellness program, you can provide your employees with the tools they need to better manage chronic pain and increase their productivity, reducing your healthcare costs and productivity losses. You don’t need artificial intelligence to see that it’s a win-win all the way around. Interested in learning more about GoHealthNow corporate wellness programs? Book a demo.

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