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  • Lloyd Price

Digital MSK: poised for growth as one of HealthTech's evolving new stars



What is Digital MSK?


Digital MSK, or digital musculoskeletal (MSK) care, refers to the use of technology and digital tools to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and management of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, joints, muscles, and other connective tissues.

Digital MSK solutions can include telemedicine consultations, remote monitoring of patient symptoms and progress, digital platforms for self-assessment and self-management, and virtual physical therapy and rehabilitation programs. These solutions aim to make MSK care more convenient, accessible, and cost-effective for patients, while also improving outcomes and reducing the need for in-person visits.

Digital MSK has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a rise in remote healthcare services. The use of digital tools for MSK care is particularly relevant given the high prevalence of MSK conditions, which affect millions of people around the world and can have a significant impact on quality of life and healthcare costs.


Digital MSK is commonly referred to as digital physical therapy, so what is DPT?


Digital physical therapy refers to the use of technology and digital tools to provide physical therapy services remotely, without requiring in-person visits to a physical therapy clinic or office. Digital physical therapy solutions can include telehealth consultations, remote monitoring of patient symptoms and progress, and digital platforms for self-assessment and self-management.


Digital physical therapy solutions may use a variety of technologies, such as video conferencing, mobile apps, wearable devices, and virtual reality. These tools enable physical therapists to provide personalized treatment plans and exercises, monitor patient progress, and offer support and guidance to patients remotely.


Digital physical therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its convenience, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness. It also allows physical therapists to reach a broader patient population and provide more frequent and consistent care. However, it's important to note that digital physical therapy may not be appropriate for all patients or conditions, and in-person physical therapy may still be necessary for some patients.


What is driving the Digital MSK market?


The digital MSK market worldwide is growing rapidly, driven by factors such as the high prevalence of MSK conditions, the increasing adoption of digital health solutions, and the need for more accessible and cost-effective MSK care. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global digital MSK market size was valued at USD 2.98 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.4% from 2021 to 2028.


The market is expected to be driven by a range of digital MSK solutions, including telemedicine, remote monitoring, digital platforms for self-management, and virtual rehabilitation programs. These solutions are being adopted by healthcare providers, employers, and insurers to provide more convenient, efficient, and accessible MSK care to patients.


North America is currently the largest market for digital MSK solutions, with a high prevalence of MSK conditions and a strong healthcare IT infrastructure. However, the market is also expected to grow rapidly in other regions, such as Europe and Asia-Pacific, as digital health solutions become more widely adopted.


How much investment has gone into digital MSK?


Investment in digital MSK has grown significantly in recent years, reflecting the increasing demand for digital health solutions to address the growing prevalence of MSK conditions. According to a report by CB Insights, funding for digital MSK companies reached a record high of $1.6 billion in 2020, more than double the funding in 2019.

Some of the largest deals in digital MSK in recent years include:

  • Hinge Health, a digital MSK company that provides virtual physical therapy and coaching, raised $310 million in a Series D funding round in 2021.

  • Kaia Health, a digital MSK company that offers an app-based platform for self-management and virtual physical therapy, raised $75 million in a Series C funding round in 2020.

  • Sword Health, a digital MSK company that provides virtual physical therapy, raised $25 million in a Series B funding round in 2020.

  • Physera, a digital MSK company that provides virtual physical therapy and remote monitoring, was acquired by Omada Health for an undisclosed sum in 2021.

Other digital MSK companies that have received significant investment include Hims & Hers, K Health, and Biofourmis.


Overall, the significant investment in digital MSK reflects the growing recognition of the potential for digital health solutions to improve access to care and outcomes for patients with MSK conditions.



What are the signs of Digital MSK's massive growth potential?


A) Physitrack IPO


European digital physical therapy and patient engagement company Physitrack went public on the Nasdaq First North Premier Growth Market in June 2021 with an original offering of SEK 40 ($4.69) per share.


The company's IPO included just under 4.4 million newly issued shares worth approximately SEK 175 ($20 million). Founded in 2012, Physitrack works primarily with the employer market to offer digital physical therapy, telehealth and patient engagement tools.


"The IPO of Physitrack is the next step in our growth journey to continue bringing our solution to even more healthcare providers and patients around the world," wrote Physitrack CEO and cofounder Henrik Molin in an email to MobiHealthNews.


"The strong interest in the IPO is proof of the support we see among investors. We are pleased to have attracted strong institutional names among our new shareholders, as well as a diverse base of investors among the general public in Sweden and Finland."



B) Omada Health acquires Physera


Physera was founded in 2015 and is headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. The company's platform enables patients to access physical therapy from the comfort of their own homes, using a combination of wearable devices, telehealth consultations, and a mobile app.


Physera has received several rounds of funding, including a $6 million Series A funding round in 2018 and a $15 million Series B funding round in 2020. In 2021, the company was acquired by Omada Health, a digital health company that offers a range of chronic disease management solutions, including diabetes prevention and management, hypertension management, and behavioral health.


The acquisition of Physera by Omada Health is expected to expand Omada's offering to include virtual physical therapy, which can be integrated with its existing platform to provide a more comprehensive care experience for patients with musculoskeletal conditions. The acquisition also reflects the growing interest in digital health solutions for musculoskeletal care, as patients and healthcare providers seek more accessible, convenient, and cost-effective ways to manage these conditions.


C) Digital Tools to release clinical pressure


The digital MSK market is growing rapidly in Europe, driven by factors such as the increasing prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions, the need for more accessible and cost-effective care solutions, and the adoption of digital health technologies by healthcare providers.


According to a report by McKinsey & Company, the European digital health market is expected to grow to €45 billion by 2025, with musculoskeletal conditions accounting for a significant share of this growth. The report also notes that virtual care solutions, including virtual physical therapy and remote monitoring, have the potential to reduce costs, improve patient outcomes, and increase access to care.


D) Clinical benefits now supported with outcomes and evidence


Digital MSK (Musculoskeletal) solutions offer several clinical benefits for patients and healthcare providers, including:

  1. Improved patient outcomes: Digital MSK solutions provide patients with access to personalized care plans, remote monitoring, and self-management tools that can help improve clinical outcomes, reduce pain and disability, and enhance overall quality of life.

  2. More efficient care delivery: Digital MSK solutions can help healthcare providers deliver care more efficiently, by reducing the need for in-person visits, streamlining communication between providers and patients, and automating administrative tasks.

  3. Better patient engagement: Digital MSK solutions can help patients stay engaged and motivated in their care by providing real-time feedback, personalized exercise plans, and social support through online communities.

  4. Increased access to care: Digital MSK solutions can help improve access to care for patients who may face geographic or financial barriers to traditional in-person care, particularly in rural or underserved areas.

  5. Enhanced data collection and analysis: Digital MSK solutions can collect and analyze large amounts of data on patient outcomes, treatment efficacy, and population health trends, enabling healthcare providers to make data-driven decisions and improve care delivery.

Overall, digital MSK solutions offer a promising approach to improving musculoskeletal care, particularly for patients with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, back pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. By leveraging the latest technology, digital MSK solutions can help healthcare providers deliver more personalized, efficient, and effective care to patients, while reducing costs and improving outcomes.


E) Cost savings for providers and payers


Digital MSK (Musculoskeletal) solutions have the potential to generate significant cost savings for patients, healthcare providers, and payers. Some of the key ways in which digital MSK solutions can reduce costs include:

  1. Reduced healthcare utilization: Digital MSK solutions can help reduce healthcare utilization by providing patients with access to self-management tools, remote monitoring, and virtual consultations, which can reduce the need for in-person visits and hospitalizations.

  2. Lower medication costs: Digital MSK solutions can help reduce medication costs by providing patients with personalized exercise plans, self-management tools, and coaching, which can help reduce reliance on medications.

  3. Reduced absenteeism and presenteeism: Musculoskeletal conditions are a leading cause of absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. Digital MSK solutions can help reduce these costs by providing employees with access to virtual physical therapy, self-management tools, and ergonomic assessments, which can help prevent and manage MSK-related pain and disability.

  4. Improved clinical outcomes: Digital MSK solutions can help improve clinical outcomes and reduce the need for costly medical interventions such as surgery or long-term medication use.

  5. More efficient care delivery: Digital MSK solutions can help healthcare providers deliver care more efficiently, reducing the need for administrative tasks and streamlining communication with patients.

Overall, the cost savings generated by digital MSK solutions can be significant, particularly for patients with chronic MSK conditions who require ongoing care and management. By providing more accessible, convenient, and cost-effective care, digital MSK solutions can help reduce the economic burden of MSK conditions for patients, healthcare providers, and payers.



Five companies leading the Digital MSK revolution


1. Hinge Health


Hinge Health is building the world’s most patient-centered Digital Musculoskeletal (MSK) Clinic™. It is now the leading Digital MSK Clinic, used by four in five employers and 90% of health plans with a digital MSK solution. Hinge Health reduces MSK pain, surgeries, and opioid use by pairing advanced wearable sensors and computer vision technology with a comprehensive clinical care team of physical therapists, physicians, and board-certified health coaches.


Hinge Health’s HingeConnect integrates with 1 million + in-person providers and enables real-time interventions for elective MSK surgeries, driving proven medical claims reduction. Available to millions of members, Hinge Health is widely trusted by leading organizations, including Land O’Lakes, L.L. Bean, Salesforce, Self-Insured Schools of California, Southern Company, State of New Jersey, US Foods, and Verizon.


2. Kaia Health


Kaia Health is the world’s largest digital therapeutics company on a mission to empower millions of people to live their healthiest lives. Our evidence-based treatments, covering a range of conditions, including musculoskeletal pain and COPD, are powered by proprietary motion analysis technology and clinical expertise.


No sensors or wearables are required, Kaia’s programs need only a smartphone to deliver the most accessible, effective, and equitable experience for all. Eleven clinical trials have shown Kaia’s effectiveness and safety to be as good as traditional care with up to 80% reduction in cost.


Kaia Health is a member of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance (DTA) and is headquartered in NY and Munich. Kaia partners with leading health plans, employers, and providers, covering 60+ million lives around the world.



3. getUbetter


getUbetter is the UK's market leading 'Digital MSK Self Care Platform' and 'NHSx MSK Digital Playbook' Case Study partnering with 17 Integrated Care Systems across England totalling over 40% market share. getUbetter provides 24/7 self-management support, so people trust their recovery and are only re-directed to healthcare services when necessary.


getUbetter won the highly prestigious "HealthTech Partnership of the Yar Award at the HSJ Partnership Awards 2023" for their work with South West London ICS.


We are providing NHS organisations and clinicians with new ways to support people with common MSK conditions via end to end digital injury support and condition management.


Our cost efficient, evidence-based technology is simple to integrate across the whole care system. It is a new way to provide recovery, prevention and support to every person that needs it. Helping them before, during and after any contact with their local service.


MSK pathways have had to adapt rapidly due to Covid-19 and we have been able to support our NHS partners to provide a digitally enabled MSK pathways, support self-management whilst safety netting alongside the ability to change these pathways rapidly to meet changing demands and services.


4. Sword Health


Sword Health is on a mission to free two billion people from pain as the first and only end-to-end platform to prevent, manage, and treat pain while saving clients millions in healthcare costs.


Sword combines proprietary artificial intelligence with rigorous clinical expertise to achieve a 60% reduction in surgery intent and an engagement rate of 3x traditional physical therapy. Today, Sword is the leading patent-holder in digital solutions addressing physical pain and serves more than 1,300 employers and health plans across three continents, including many Fortune 500 companies.


With more than $300 million raised from top venture firms like Bond, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, and Sapphire Ventures, and a $2 billion valuation, Sword was recently recognized as a Forbes Best Startup Employer, and has become the fastest-growing company in the category since its founding in 2015. Sword Health has offices in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Sydney and Porto.


5. Fern Health


Available through employers and health plans, Fern Health’s digital pain platform, Fern, addresses the underlying causes of persistent pain, not just the symptoms.


Guided programs deliver exercise therapy, interventions for sleep, nutrition, daily movement, and emotional health. Every member is supported through pain-focused 1:1 clinical coaching and pain neuroscience education to improve function, reduce pain, and avoid unnecessary healthcare costs.


Fern Health is majority owned by German life science company Grünenthal International, with other minority investors.



Summary:


There are several factors driving the adoption of digital MSK solutions:

  1. Increased prevalence of MSK conditions: MSK conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, and osteoporosis, are very common and affect millions of people worldwide. The growing prevalence of these conditions is increasing demand for MSK care, and digital solutions are seen as a way to expand access to care and improve outcomes.

  2. Need for more accessible and convenient care: Many patients face barriers to accessing traditional in-person MSK care, such as long wait times, transportation issues, and high costs. Digital MSK solutions, such as telemedicine and remote monitoring, offer more convenient and accessible options for patients to receive care.

  3. Advances in technology: The development of new technologies, such as wearable devices, telemedicine platforms, and mobile apps, has made it easier to deliver MSK care remotely and monitor patient progress more effectively.

  4. Changing healthcare landscape: There is a growing focus on value-based care and improving patient outcomes, which has led to increased interest in digital health solutions that can improve care delivery and patient engagement.

  5. COVID-19 pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital MSK solutions, as many patients have been unable or unwilling to access in-person care. The pandemic has highlighted the need for more flexible and resilient healthcare systems that can adapt to changing circumstances.

Overall, the adoption of digital MSK solutions is expected to continue to grow as healthcare providers, payers, and patients seek more accessible, convenient, and effective ways to manage MSK conditions.


Thoughts, comments? Tweet @lloydgprice, or email lloyd@healthcare.digital and let's start a conversation :)





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