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UnitedHealthcare and Kaia Health have partnered to give UH members in employer-sponsored health plans who suffer from musculoskeletal issues access to virtual care physical therapy, according to an emailed press release.
“UnitedHealthcare’s Virtual Physical Therapy program offers people the convenience of 24/7 access to PT coaching sessions at home or on the go, further enhancing our holistic approach to help address musculoskeletal issues by combining advanced technology with proactive engagement, personalized support, and consumer-centric benefit designs,” said Russell Amundson, MD, national senior medical director at UnitedHealthcare.
Employer-sponsored health plans that are self-funded plans can buy into the program. The program relies on an app powered by artificial intelligence (AI) called the Kaia Health app, designed to support members after surgery. Because of the program’s virtual care and AI-powered design, members can receive support on-demand.
Physical therapy offers athletes and individuals leading an active lifestyle professional care and assistance for managing a sports-related injury. Physical therapy includes a range of specialized techniques for treating the entire musculoskeletal system, from a sprained ankle to concussions or a pulled hamstring.
The AI software can identify if a member is practicing a physical therapy activity incorrectly. The app offers tailored feedback regarding how members can improve and more closely align with the appropriate posture or motion for the exercise.
“To track progress and determine if further support is needed, the app uses motion monitoring to provide feedback in real-time, offering suggestions akin to what people might receive from a physical therapist at an in-person appointment,” the press release explained.
Kaia Health’s world-leading 2D motion tracking technology enables users to get real-time feedback on their exercise performance using their smartphone’s camera, which, when taken together with the platform’s psychological and education support, has been proven to outperform conventional therapy.
UnitedHealthcare indicated that the program could cut down on healthcare spending in employer-sponsored health plans by diminishing low-value care.
For instance, musculoskeletal lower back pain can result in a number of low-value care services, including spinal injections, surgeries, and opioids.
The AI algorithm continues to assess a member’s progress over time. The results are combined with self-reported data to identify and connect members who need more targeted support through health coaching.
The tool is not strictly AI-based. Members can receive personal counseling from health coaches. Program participants can access these coaches through a telehealth call or in the app.
“With millions of Americans experiencing orthopedic issues currently or at some point during their lifetimes, this AI-driven approach supplements our existing virtual physical therapy benefit with a new resource to help people recover from injury or surgery,” said Amundson.
According to the press release, the virtual physical therapy program for individuals with musculoskeletal conditions is not the only way in which the payer has been providing coverage for physical therapy.
UnitedHealthcare, ranked the most valuable healthcare brand in 2019, for the second year in a row, by the Brand Finance report, has tens of thousands of physical and occupational therapists in its network. This program is not necessarily the only opportunity members would have to access virtual care for physical therapy. Depending on some factors, like if they still have unfulfilled physical therapy visits under their health plan, employer-sponsored health plan members could schedule a virtual care visit with an in-network physical therapist instead of an in-person visit.
The pandemic was vital in expanding virtual care access to physical therapy. In pediatric physical therapy, some practitioners have found that doing virtual physical therapy instead of in-person physical therapy helps parents be more engaged and knowledgeable about their child’s care.
Musculoskeletal care may be a key area for innovation as the coronavirus pandemic becomes more manageable.
It is not the first time UnitedHealthcare shows interest in Kaia Health. In 2019, Kaia Health announced an $8 million funding round, the second significant investment that year. The infusion of capital was led by Optum Ventures, UHG’s venture arm.
Before that, Germany-based digital health startup, Kaia Health, had raised $10 million in a Series A financing round, with the funding to be used to scale up operations, including the roll out of its app, and financing a move to New York. In total, Kaia has raised $14 million following a $4 million seed funding round in 2016.
Kaia Health said the money raised in 2019 were going to be used to roll out its pipeline which includes treatments to “tackle some of the world’s most urgent health challenges, including a range of chronic conditions.” The company further said it has created scientifically-validated digital treatments for a range of disorders including back pain and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Kaia Health has developed a smartphone-based approach for managing a range of chronic conditions, with its leading product focused on musculoskeletal disorders (MSK) such as chronic back pain. The investment by Optum Ventures helped Kaia Health address the rising costs of treating MSK-related conditions, the difficulty patients have in accessing gold-standard treatment, and the need for innovative, scalable and cost-effective technology solutions to confront this issue.