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Managing Pain: The Role Of Health Plans In Today’s Opioid Crisis

posted by George DeVries, Chairman & CEO, American Specialty Health

on September 18, 2018

Health insurance providers are using technology today as never before, so why not embrace digital platforms to address the number one health crisis facing the nation—the pain management and opioid crisis? The toll of this crisis in human suffering and costs cannot be overemphasized. In 2015 alone, the opioid crisis cost an estimated $504 billion, with more than 2 million Americans addicted to prescription opioids.

Health insurance providers are in a perfect position to help drive and facilitate solutions by addressing pain management differently. We must first recognize that overuse of high-cost/high-risk prescription drugs or surgery as a first line of care isn’t necessary for many patients. Likewise, poorly coordinated and siloed care, inadequate attention to the psychological and behavioral aspects of pain, and gaps in coverage for chronic pain have all contributed to today’s crisis. Adding to the cost of care is the underuse of technology-enabled interventions for pain patients.

Offering a comprehensive, structured and technology-focused pain management solution—a digital ecosystem—that surrounds members with coordinated care options and engages them through multiple touch points would significantly improve the delivery and cost of care for pain patients.

Here are four advantages of a technology-enabled pain management solution.

  1. Connected options. A digital platform can provide members with: decision-support tools to enable self-care; access to a network of evidence-based providers of care (such as physical therapists, acupuncturists and chiropractors); libraries of practical pain management content; and access to Cognitive Behavioral Training, which focuses on a person’s cognitive process (thoughts, beliefs, images) with the goal of changing perceptions and behaviors related to pain. With a range of pain management options—accessible via mobile or laptop devices—members can quickly engage with the right tools at the right time.
  2. Data Collection. To improve pain management outcomes, we must first understand an individual’s pain condition. From the start, a program should strive to understand pain thresholds, physical capabilities/limitations, therapies tried, and goals and fears. Through smart feedback, digital pain management platforms can then provide targeted content or therapeutic options that may have the greatest impact on a person’s quality of life.
  3. A Responsive Digital Roadmap. Just as fitness devices and apps use various digital touchpoints to encourage individuals to work towards their fitness goals, pain management apps can provide ongoing reminders and support to help individuals manage pain. A responsive digital roadmap documents goals, tracks progress and serves new content to guide them along. Such continuous engagement is proven to help support short- and long-term behavior change.
  4. Cognitive Behavioral Training. Individuals living with pain may be stuck in old habits or fears related to their pain. Digital platforms can deliver Cognitive Behavioral Training-based messaging that addresses the stressors preventing productive pain management and helps members reframe their thoughts about pain to improve function and productivity.

Health insurance providers seeking to offer valuable solutions to members stuck in pain have a clear-cut choice: turn-key, comprehensive digital pain management platforms that deliver non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive pain options.


George DeVries is cofounder, chairman, and CEO at American Specialty Health (ASH), the nation’s musculoskeletal health benefits management leader serving more than 140 health insurance providers nationwide.
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