Blue Shield of California pleased with soft rollout of digital MSK pain treatment

More than 1,600 Blue Shield of California members have registered for a musculoskeletal (MSK) program through the payer's digital health platform since its launch in January.

The Wellvolution platform has offered three MSK programs to 2.5 million eligible adult members for several months, though Angie Kalousek-Ebrahimi, senior director of lifestyle medicine at Blue Shield of California, said the insurer has done little marketing and outreach to this point.

“We definitely expect with a multi-touch outreach and multi-channel campaign starting this week that we’re going to see quite a bit of growth,” she predicted.

Members take a quiz to determine which program is best suited to them. If an enrollee needs simple stretches, they join the low acuity Sworkit exercise app that has workout routines with yoga, Pilates and cardio.

Angie Kalousek Ebrahimi
Angie Kalousek-Ebrahimi (Blue Shield of California)

Kaia is for members with a moderate level of chronic pain in isolated areas of the body. Care plans and educational content with Kaia are more tailored than with Sworkit.

But if a person needs a physical trainer, their best bet is Sword Health, where individuals receive an exercise plan and connect up to three times a week with a licensed physical therapist.

Even though there is no replacement for completing daily exercises, virtual programs help some members stay engaged when they otherwise wouldn’t, said Byron Crowe, chief medical officer at Solera Health, Blue Shield’s partner in developing Wellvolution.

“These virtual programs are making it really easy for people to understand what exercises to do, and to do them in the comfort of their own home,” he explained.

Byron Crowe
Byron Crowe (LinkedIn)

Extensive time commitment sometimes leads to high dropout rates for in-person physical therapy. A randomized control trial from Sword Health compared in-person with virtual physical therapy, finding that dropout rates were doubled for in-person physical therapy compared to virtual care. And another analysis (PDF) published with the Validation Institute found that participants save nearly $2,500 on average due to fewer surgeries, procedures and imaging.

Outside of its MSK offerings, Wellvolution has helped more than 200,000 members with conditions like diabetes, tobacco cessation, mental health and hypertension.

Approximately 40% of people in California suffer from a MSK condition through pain and injury. Up to 20% of the U.S. population experience chronic MSK pain, and the majority of members joining Blue Shield’s programs are determined to have chronic struggles.