Letter to the editor: Digital health misconceptions in musculoskeletal care

Spine

Becker’s published a response from Louis Levitt, MD, to the question “How do you feel about non-healthcare entities dipping their toes into the healthcare space?” In that response, Dr. Levitt spoke about digital healthcare companies focused on MSK issues, and specifically mentioned Sword Health. As a fellow spine surgeon and chief medical officer at Sword, I wanted to correct a few items that he got incorrect in his response, as well as some misconceptions he, and others in the medical field, have with how a platform like ours helps people suffering from pain.

Sword Health is an end-to-end platform to predict, prevent and treat pain. A first of its kind and the only in its class. With 62% of our members reporting to be pain-free and up to 70% of them showing a reduction in surgery intent, Sword is using technology to save millions of dollars, as well as future medical complications from unnecessary surgeries, for its clients and is available through more than 10,000 employers across three continents.

Recently, we announced a partnership with Costco Health Solutions. With CHS, we’re focused on offering a more holistic approach when it comes to those who have been prescribed opioids or GLP-1s. We believe that you shouldn’t just “manage” pain, you should do all that you can to treat it without turning to surgery and potentially addictive medications first. By using our technology, we are able to help people heal through movement. The same approach should be taken with weight loss drugs. If you are taking something to help you lose weight, you should also be working to change your lifestyle, so you can keep the weight off.

More specifically, I’d like to address Dr. Levitt’s comment about relying on “lesser-trained medical professionals.” While I can’t speak to other companies in the market working on the same problem that we are, I can say that all of our programs are designed and led by Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPT). I can attest to the fact that Sword only employs Doctors of Physical Therapy to treat our members. Additionally, we are the only company in the space that has a close partnership with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), to advance research around digital physical therapy and to support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) within the PT profession.

As a neurosurgeon, I often send patients to physical therapy before I even start a conversation about surgery, because half of all spine surgeries conducted in the U.S. today are unnecessary. When recommending patients with back and joint conditions for surgery, we must always start with the least invasive option first, and thanks to the rise of digital care solutions like the ones we as a company provide, we remove barriers like time and transportation for many patients, enabling them to take advantage of the least invasive care.

To drive to a future without unnecessary surgery, which we can all agree is optimal for all of our patients, we must bring access to clinically rigorous physical therapy to everyone, no matter where they live. Doing so will advance health equity and close care gaps for underserved patients, including minorities and those who live in rural areas or "healthcare deserts."

Further, if we continue to provide patients with solutions that prevent, not just treat, MSK pain, we can reduce surgeries to only the most critical and discrete needs, making surgery increasingly less necessary.

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