Did you know? Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., impacting the quality of life and mental health of more than 50 million Americans. The economic cost of chronic pain is estimated at $500 billion annually, more than any other chronic health condition. That’s why we’re so excited about our new partnership with pain management expert, Fern Health. This new integration will allow us to offer employees and health plan members the guidance and tools they need to holistically address the underlying causes of persistent pain. Read on for details about this exciting partnership.
What is chronic pain?
Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. There are many sources of pain: musculoskeletal conditions, injuries, migraines, fibromyalgia – to name a few. A certain amount of pain is normal. But when pain lingers for months or years, it can severely impact our quality of life.
A holistic well-being approach to pain management.
Living with daily pain can be both physically and emotionally stressful. Chronic stress can change the levels of stress hormones and neurochemicals in the brain and nervous system, which affect mood, thinking, and behavior.1 As a result, people with chronic pain tend to suffer from depression, sleep disorders, and anxiety at much greater rates than the general population.
Which means that to truly be effective at managing pain we need to consider the whole person. Like WebMD Health Services, Fern Health believes in a whole-person approach that considers all the aspects of a person’s life that could be impacting pain, like:
- Biological (injury, infection, illness);
- Psychological (sleep, anxiety, depression, fear); and
- Social (work, family, social connections).
All three of these “biopsychosocial” factors can contribute to a cycle of fatigue and depression that can prevent people from fully recovering. And, particularly for musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, evidence-based guidelines for treatment call for both physical and psychological therapies before more invasive medical interventions are considered.
According to Fern Health, helping people understand what’s happening in their body and why results in an “increase in confidence, and the ability to break out of the cycle of fear and anxious feelings, allowing them to reframe their understanding of chronic pain.”
How does the pain management program work?
The Fern Health program, which is completely integrated with the WebMD ONE platform, starts with a 29-question clinically-validated assessment – repeated every 4 weeks – that helps users to identify how pain is impacting their life based on eight different dimensions: pain intensity; pain interference; social connection; mobility; fatigue; depression; anxiety; and sleep.
The assessment results help Fern Health tailor a program to each user based on their unique physical, emotional, and social needs. They then set goals related to core program pillars – exercise therapy, emotional health, daily movement, sleep, and nutrition. A welcome kit soon follows containing helpful tools like exercise bands, a myofascial self-massage tool, and a sleep mask.
Users then embark on a self-paced digital journey that provides education, activities, and life skills alongside high-touch 1:1 support from WebMD Health Services coaches who are certified in pain neuroscience education. Coaches are always available via online chat, and users can also schedule calls on an as-needed basis. A typical treatment plan lasts 8-12 weeks, followed by a maintenance period of up to 9 months when users still have access to all the resources available in their program.
What are the benefits of pain management programs?
Managing pain helps improve overall quality of life for participants, and that’s the most important benefit. Also, since one aspect of well-being often influences another, it’s possible to see health improvements across multiple dimensions of well-being. For example, someone dealing with chronic pain who increases physical activity as a result of the pain management program may lose weight and reduce the risk of becoming diabetic.
There are also tangible benefits to the business. When we feel better we’re likely to be more engaged in our jobs and perform better. Healthcare costs can decrease. Organizations may also see reduced absenteeism and increased presenteeism by equipping employees with the tools to better manage pain so they can bring their whole selves to work. We expect the Fern Health program to be particularly beneficial for our clients with large manufacturing populations who often suffer from repetitive motion injuries and other musculoskeletal pain.