Quality care helps employers tackle #1 healthcare cost

Ask any employer, and they'll tell you that healthcare costs for their employees are an enormous expenditure. Dig deeper, and you'll find that musculoskeletal conditions (MSC), such as degenerative disease of the spine, hips and knees, account for more than 16 percent of total employer healthcare costs, says Hospital for Special Surgery Surgeon-in-Chief and Medical Director, Dr. Todd Albert.

The statistics bear that out: In a 2014 report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), researchers note that MSC cost employers more than $20 billion annually in direct costs. Up to five times that amount is paid out in "indirect costs," such as training workers for replacement, notes OSHA. And as workforce aging increases, the need to manage and treat MSC will increase, as well.

"One-third of lost work time is related to musculoskeletal diseases and conditions," says HSS President and CEO, Lou Shapiro. "People are either absent, or not [fully] present." According to a report from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, when employees are absent due to musculoskeletal pain, they are out for an average of 11 days. Given that an estimated 126.6 million Americans are affected by a musculoskeletal condition, this a problem for just about every employer.

The solution is two-fold: Employers can mitigate MSC by providing training on ergonomics and encouraging early reporting of MSC symptoms. When MSC are unavoidable, Albert contends that early quality medical care is the best course of action. When patients are treated at a center with a comprehensive focus on MSC, clinicians can more quickly and efficiently diagnose and care for the patient; a timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment will ultimately reduce time away from work.

"Sometimes the diagnosis is the most important thing," says Albert, "because getting the right diagnosis the first time leads to a lot of efficiency, or value, and the correct treatment the first time, which for most musculoskeletal disease will be non-surgical." Treating MSC properly is as important for employers as it is for employees, Albert continues. "A complicated surgery is exponentially more expensive and less valuable than one that is done complication- and readmission-free, both in terms of direct medical costs and time away from work," he says. Even more valuable is skipping unnecessary spine surgeries, which are, unfortunately, on the rise.

"By treating musculoskeletal disease more effectively, the gains to an employer are quite large," says Catherine MacLean, Chief Value Medical Officer at HSS. "The benefits go far beyond the medical expenditure to improving worker productivity."

That improved productivity has several precursors resulting from quality MSC care, including decreased absenteeism and improved morale. With nearly 1 in 2 Americans currently battling some form of MSC, the cost to employers of not investing in quality MSC healthcare may be too high a price to pay. To learn more about how HSS can help you and your employees with MSC, visit

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This page was paid for by HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.