We have a pain management crisis in the United States. 116 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. For employers, chronic pain is a direct hit to the bottom line. Pain increases absenteeism, presenteeism, and medical costs. Costs for pain of the spine, neck, hip, and other joints have reached $183.5 billion annually -- more than cancer and cardiac care.

Why is pain care so costly? Contributing factors include poorly coordinated and unnecessary treatment; underuse of non-invasive, non-pharmacologic therapies as a first line of care; overuse of invasive and surgical treatments; and inadequate attention to the psycho-social aspects of pain.

How can employers help employees better manage pain? According to Denee Choice, M.D. and Douglas Metz, D.C. -- executives at American Specialty Health (ASH) -- these five powerful strategies can make a tremendous difference in the lives of your people.

1. Assess your workforce

Does pain impact 10 percent of your employee population or 80 percent? Knowing this will help you understand the scope of the pain management program you need in your workplace. Review your health claims data and conduct employee surveys. Plan a communications program based on results.

2. Educate and encourage self-care

Employee education and self-care training should always be the first lines of treatment in a pain management strategy. Pain education modules can be deployed via your company website. Newsletters, posters and fliers should encourage employees to talk with their health care providers to: understand the cause of their pain; learn how to move safely; and gain knowledge of self-care therapies, such as heat and ice, use of foam rollers or other devices, and mind-body techniques, including meditation or diaphragmatic breathing.

3. Offer alternative health benefits

If your workplace has a high percentage of employees suffering from pain conditions, consider offering employer-sponsored coverage for therapies such as massage and physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic. Studies confirm the effectiveness of these therapies for managing musculoskeletal pain.

4. Don't overlook cognitive behavioral training

Psychological factors (such as depression and anxiety) and poor coping strategies can contribute significantly to functional impairment. Cognitive behavioral training (CBT) builds skills that can help change unhealthy patterns of thinking and perceptions about pain, which in turn can reduce pain and improve function.

5. Consider a coordinated, comprehensive approach

A key driver of high costs in pain care is poor coordination of care. Largely, pain has been managed in silos of care, with desperate patients drifting from one silo to the next hoping for a different result. Comprehensive pain management programs can provide a structured eco-system that surrounds employees with coordinated care options and educates them about how and when to choose different interventions. A comprehensive program offers the right tools at the right time to empower employees with new options.

Depending on the impact of pain in your workforce, one of these strategies, or a program that includes them all, can make a big difference. Reach out to your benefits advisors or insurance providers to learn more.

Published on: Jan 1, 2018