Saul Marquez, Host at Outcomes Rocket Podcast

Solving Chronic Pain Through Digital Care

Friday August 14th 2020

Solving Chronic Pain Through Digital Care

chronic pain


Joint pain is among the most common form of pain people experience daily. Back, hip, knee and shoulder are just a few areas of the body where people are currently suffering and there is a high likelihood you are or someone you know has joint pain.

For some, this pain is due to their work environment. Jobs that use heavy machinery, heavy manual work, and tasks that need to be constantly repeated all take a toll on our joints. 

Some exercises, sports, or activities also cause a strain in the same parts of the body, increasing the likelihood of joint disorders.

But for most of us, joint pain happens because of age, weight, genes, and gender, turning into what is known as osteoarthritis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osteoarthritis#Signs_and_symptoms) (OA). 

The discomfort doesn’t happen overnight. Usually, the pain is gradual, starting out mild and is bearable.

Then comes the day when getting out of bed has become a challenge because of back pain, when taking a stroll has gotten harder because the ankles and hips hurt, climbing the stairs causes knee pain, and when the wrist joints hurt from using the mouse. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic pain or arthritis affects one in four adults. 

It also reported that joint pain is more prevalent among women (29.2%) than men (22.7%) and more common among adults aged 45 to 64 years old (30.7%), though 18 to 44 years old can also get it. Severe joint pain is also more frequent among adults who have chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

The Economic Cost of Joint Pain

There is no denying that arthritis impacts quality of life. It lessens the function and range of movement of the affected individual. For sufferers, the pain can be so crippling that they are no longer able to work. For back pain alone this cost $213 billion a year in medical treatments and absenteeism to companies in the US. (https://www.hrdive.com/news/prevention-is-key-to-reducing-the-cost-of-employee-back-pain-arthritis/505384/) 

RA research on pain prevention, care, education, and research conducted by Gaskin and Richard stated that ‘the total financial cost of pain to society, which combines the health care cost estimates and the three productivity estimates, ranges from $560 to $635 billion.’ This eclipses the annual cost for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92521/)

Arthritis is the most common reason for hip and knee replacements. In the U.S. alone, more than 450,000 hip replacements and 790,000 knee replacements are done every year according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.


Managing Joint Pain

OA has no cure. Doctors use a combination of treatment and physical therapy to reduce the impact of OA in a person’s life.

Patients use various strategies to cope with the pains brought about by the disease, including face to face intervention with therapists and specialists. 

That is well and good if there is a specialist in the city. But what if the patient lives in an area far from the doctor? And during COVID, is it safe to be visiting hospitals and clinics where there is a higher chance of getting infected with the virus?

One company making a huge difference in the lives of OA patients is Joint Academy, a digital health company pioneering online treatment for chronic joint pain by connecting patients with licensed therapists. Its app connects patients with physical therapists for treatment and includes progress tracking, personalized physical activities, and education about joint pain.

This company was founded by father and son, Leif, and Jakob Dahlberg, in 2014. Jakob’s background in Computer Science saw the opportunity to scale up his father’s research in musculoskeletal and chronic joint conditions. 

Today, Joint Academy’s presence is largely felt. It has partnered with the public health system in Sweden and is now expanding into countries in Europe and recently went live in the United States. Their global reach will soon provide help to millions of people around the world who are suffering from osteoarthritis. 

In my podcast interview with Jakob Dahlberg, he mentioned that prior to digitizing the product, it was already clinically validated with over 200,000 patients completing the program face to face. The company had a lot of data and know-how to deliver the digital intervention, and being science lead with in house expertise made the difference between success and failure. 

The company has programs for patients, but it also delivers cost-savings to health plans, health systems, and employers. 

With Joint Academy, patients with OA have a better hope of managing their care and living quality lives. Their data speaks for itself with 50% patients deciding not to have surgery and over 40% stop taking pain medication after participating in the Joint Academy Program. 

Check out my interview with Jakob here: https://outcomesrocket.health/jointacademy/2020/06/




Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research. (Darrell J. Gaskin, Ph.D. and Patrick Richard, Ph.D., M.A. )




Written By

Saul Marquez

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