Work from home advice ends but employee back ache lingers: Unum sees 50% jump in digital physio appointments at start of 2022

by | Mar 7, 2022

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-Insights from Unum’s award-winning health and wellbeing app Help@hand point to the musculoskeletal toll from the COVID-19 pandemic on workers

-2 in 5 digital physiotherapy appointments booked via the app are for back, neck and shoulder problems

-Demand for digital services continues to grow, with Help@hand seeing more than 3,000 app downloads at the start of 2022

Today, Unum, one of the UK’s leading employee benefits providers, has reported a sharp rise in demand for digital physiotherapy appointments, indicating that the pandemic is continuing to take a physical toll on employees who’ve had to work from home.

Unum’s award-winning health and wellbeing app Help@hand saw appointments surge by 50% between the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, before the lifting of the government work-from-home advice.

The figure is the highest it has been since October and is potentially linked to bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and soft tissues pain related to working from home, whether that is through poor posture, lack of regular exercise, a poor home working ergonomic setup or another change in habits.

In the 6 months to January 2022, 97% of individuals who booked a physiotherapy appointment via Help@hand agreed that their physiotherapist dealt with their concerns on that day, a very high satisfaction rating for a service some may consider a struggle to deliver digitally.

These findings illustrate just how effective digital delivery of health and wellbeing services can be, even for a stereotypically ‘hands-on’ service such as physiotherapy.

The data from Unum also indicated a continual mental toll on workers from the pandemic, with mental health appointments increasing by 27% between December 2021 and January 2022. Unum have noted that more men were now seeking mental health support than previously via Help@hand with the 26-35 age group the most proactive at this.

Help@hand also saw a 33% increase in downloads from December ’21 to January ’22 — with more than 3,000 downloads made via the App Store in January.

The growth was partly down to the fact that Help@hand is now available to 1.4m employees — as well as their families[1] — across Unum’s Group Life, Income Protection and Critical Illness customers. This follows Unum widening the service to all employees covered by any of the above schemes. Previously Help@hand was only available to employees covered by a Unum Group Income Protection policy or a Group Life or Group Critical Illness policy with fewer than 250 insured employees.

This vastly increased the number of people with access to 24/7 virtual GP appointments, plus direct in-app access to physiotherapy, mental health support and medical second opinions from healthcare professionals.

In addition to extending availability of Help@hand, employers who’ve had more than 50 employees[2] book a Help@hand appointment can now access to the Help@hand Insights Report.

This provides anonymised insight into employees’ Help@hand usage by health issue, number of sessions used, gender, age, time of appointment and more; so employers can identify workforce trends and adapt their wellbeing strategies to match current employee needs.

Glenn Thompson, Chief Distribution Officer for Unum UK commented: “Musculoskeletal concerns are costly for employers, accounting for 15% of all sickness absences in the UK— more than absences caused by COVID-19.[3]

“Working from home during the pandemic may have exacerbated these issues for workers without the ergonomic setups they’d have in the office and furniture or equipment ill-matched to their needs. Even those with good setups may find working from home leads to fewer breaks or less exercise they’d normally do on the daily commute, which itself can trigger musculoskeletal pain. Through all this, Unum is proud that Help@hand has been a valuable tool for employees to access health and wellbeing support wherever and whenever they need it.”

[1] Employees and their partner (if applicable) will be able to access all Help@hand services. Children are eligible to access the remote GP and medical second opinion services up until their 18th birthday or 24th birthday if in full-time education. Children over 18 will be able to access the life, money and wellbeing confidential helpline and other online resources.

[2] To ensure complete employee confidentiality, reports are only available if employers have at least 50 active users of the Help@hand services.

[3] Office for National Statistics, Sickness absence in the UK (March 2021)

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