UnitedHealthcare rolls out new virtual physical therapy program

UnitedHealthcare has partnered with Kaia Health on a new virtual physical therapy program.

The program aims to offer 24/7, on-demand exercise feedback to eligible members with musculoskeletal conditions, the health insurance giant said. Members who are recovering from surgery or an injury will be asked to complete an assessment of current issues and will be referred to the program based on that assessment.

Eligible members will then be able to download Kaia's app to access its physical therapy tools, which use artificial intelligence to support patients through physical therapy exercise and monitor progress.

The app tracks motion in real time to offer suggestions using the mobile phone's camera rather than a wearable device. In combination with self-reported data from the user, the app can identify when a member may need additional coaching or intervention to ensure they're meeting their physical therapy goals.

Russell Amundson, M.D., senior medical director at UnitedHealthcare, told Fierce Healthcare that the musculoskeletal space is a high priority for employer clients and a hotbed for potential innovation as these conditions represent a significant amount of healthcare spending and are quite common.

"It's a really important category not only in terms of the cost but how ubiquitous it is," Amundson said. "There's lots of treatment options and the best pathway for a particular patient is not always clear to them."

Participants in the program can also access one-on-one health coaching either telephonically or via the app's chat feature. These health coaches offer encouragement and guidance as well as a link to the patient's care team should they identify potential challenges.

The new virtual physical therapy option is part of UnitedHealthcare's broader push for greater virtual plan solutions and is available nationwide as an option for its self-funded employer clients.

Amundson said virtual therapy and other digital tools for MSK felt the telehealth boom under COVID-19, and, while use has decreased from pandemic highs, it remains elevated compared to pre-COVID levels.

"I think it is an option that is going to stick around," he said.