If the last 3 years have made anything clear, it’s that we are living in a golden age of digital fitness and virtual health — or a “macro boom,” as Deloitte has dubbed the trend.1 Even as Americans ease back into normal routines, their embrace of tools like physical therapy apps and online workout videos doesn’t seem to be losing momentum. In fact, the virtual fitness market is projected to balloon from $14.9 billion in 2022, to $250.7 billion by 2032.2 To help improve physical fitness, employers are also including virtual musculoskeletal (MSK) care in their benefits portfolio, with 80% offering or considering offering it in 2024/2025.3
Many health plans and employers that rushed to roll out digital offerings during the early days of the pandemic now find themselves in a moment of reflection. How can they balance members’ penchant for digital tools against rising pressure to contain health care costs? How should they best approach the vast and expanding landscape of point solutions? And what strategies are most likely to drive realized benefits, such as better health outcomes and an improved member experience?
This is no mere thought experiment. Nine in 10 employers are planning to change health and wellness vendors in the next 2 years.4 But even as health plans reassess this ever-evolving space, it’s clear that some realities are here to stay. Here are 3 takeaways of how the digital movement trend has reshaped member experience and raised the bar on member expectations.
1. Flexibility reigns supreme
After dropping the habit during the early pandemic, some people may never again set foot in a gym. But far more common are those who enjoy both at-home and on-site fitness experiences. In fact, a quarter of people who participate in virtual workouts do so with the same brand as the gym they currently attend.5 And while virtual sessions can make movement radically more accessible, flexible and varied, there’s no question there are upsides to in-person offerings. Consider that 70% of fitness consumers reported missing the gym as much as they missed family and friends during the pandemic.6
As payers assess their portfolios, they’d be wise to prioritize solutions that combine digital and on-site options. These solutions help satisfy members’ varied preferences and encourage them to move more without having to toggle between separate systems. For example, the Optum® One Pass program offers members both a robust digital platform and access to more than 26,000 in-network gyms and fitness studios.
2. Members crave holistic care
When solutions are too narrowly niched, they risk being underutilized by members. (Who wants separate point solutions for yoga and aerobics, for instance?) But there’s an increased awareness of just how intertwined and interdependent health outcomes can be. There’s also a growing preference for integrated care, which has demonstrated better outcomes and lower total costs.7
For instance, the pain and physical limitations that can accompany MSK conditions can exacerbate mental health challenges a member may face. For some, this can make it harder to comply with treatment plans, oftentimes creating a compounding impact. One study found that people living with MSK pain missed 8.2 days of work in the past year, while those with both MSK pain and mental health needs missed 13 days.8 But the inverse is also true, that treating one condition can sometimes alleviate and improve others. Another study found that participants using a digital exercise program reduced MSK pain, on average, by 68.5% — and reduced anxiety and depression by 58%.9
Members are seeking out solutions that approach health through a holistic lens — and health plans are responding. For One Pass for Medicare, that means offering not just digital fitness but also home delivery service for groceries, brain training exercises and social activities. Optum® Musculoskeletal Solutions suite features multimodal therapy, including physical exercises and relaxation exercises. It also offers access to specialized nurses and high-performing providers that can tailor individual treatment plans and address member concerns.
3. Friction begets frustration
Members expect digital health tools to offer the same ease of use that they’ve come to expect from consumer products. How easy is it to share data with providers? How much toggling will a member have to do between disparate interfaces? And if they need to seek help beyond the digital solution — say, pursuing surgical intervention for knee pain — how seamless is that process?
The value of a streamlined, frictionless digital tool cannot be overstated. In the case of One Pass, 72% of users surveyed said they were more likely to renew their Medicare membership because of the One Pass benefit.10
Digital movement may have reached its tipping point during the pandemic, but member enthusiasm for virtual fitness and MSK care shows no signs of waning. But not all digital fitness offerings or virtual MSK programs are created equal. As health plans reassess their offerings, they’d be wise to keep member experience top of mind. Because for any solution to deliver better health outcomes and improved cost savings, it must first meet the new reality for what members expect from their experience.
Learn about Optum One Pass and Musculoskeletal Solutions.