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Kiio study highlights how an exercise therapy app can help employers and payers reduce costs associated with low back and other joint pain

Among the large, claims-based study’s findings was a dramatic 62% lower medical spend, 89% lower opioid use, and 51% lower use of antidepressants for Kiio participants.


Musculoskeletal (MSK) pain is one of the most common maladies, affecting bones, joints, ligaments, tendons or muscles in areas like the back and hips. It also can be a big part of employers’ medical bills. One in two adults have a MSK issue every year, and these disorders cost an estimated $213 billion annually in treatment, care, and lost wages. 

Recognizing the opportunity to use innovation to combat this problem, Kiio developed a digital MSK therapy solution that combines advanced software and evidenced-based guidelines to treat and prevent back, knee, neck, and hip pain. Kiio enables health plans and employers to offer their members an immediate and convenient way to reduce their pain, improve flexibility, and cut down on unnecessary healthcare utilization.

Lydia Zeller, Kiio CEO

Kiio worked with WEA Trust to support members with easy, convenient, and evidence-based digital musculoskeletal (MSK) therapy care for members struggling with back pain.

For WEA Trust, lower back pain was the driver for much of their plans’ medical utilization and cost, with a significant impact on employment costs and productivity. 

Kiio client and investor, WEA Trust, an independent, not-for-profit health insurance company in Wisconsin, provides group health insurance and administrative services to public employers, with a total of 110,000 plan members. Back pain was the driver for much of their plans’ medical utilization and cost, with a significant additional impact on employment costs and productivity. 

WEA Trust wanted to provide their  members who were struggling with lower back pain immediate access to an easy-to-use, evidence-based digital therapy benefit. The white-labeled Kiio offering, WEA Trust Low Back Pain Program, uses a mobile app to conveniently deliver personalized exercise therapy, education and support to their members. 

Study overview

To evaluate Kiio’s ability to drive better outcomes at lower costs, an independent longitudinal study compared one year’s worth of WEA Trust claims of 656 Kiio participants to a control group of 23,709 receiving traditional MSK care for lower back pain. In the Kiio group, 12 months of claims were assessed after their enrollment date in Kiio. In the control group receiving traditional care, 12 months of claims were assessed starting with their first lower back pain claim. All data was then normalized to member months.

Prior to enrolling in Kiio, participants went through a screening process to gather baseline data and determine medical appropriateness. WEA members who were ineligible to participate for medical or other reasons were directed to appropriate in-network care as part of Kiio’s customized Care Path OptimizationSM.

Eligible members were able to immediately access Kiio’s WEA Low Back Pain Program. The regimen included three progressive levels of therapeutic exercise specific to the member’s type of lower back pain, pain education, virtual coaching, and unlimited access to 1:1 Care Team support.


The study’s most compelling findings were 62% lower combined medical and pharmaceutical spend, 89% lower opioids and 74% lower benzodiazepine use in the Kiio group, and significantly lower use of urgent care services, diagnostics, and procedures. 

Given the link between chronic pain and mental health, the study also evaluated pharmaceutical utilization of antidepressants. Kiio participants had 51% lower antidepressant use than WEA Trust members diagnosed with lower back pain who did not participate in Kiio.

Kiio participants also benefited from improved clinical outcomes. Based on self-reported survey data collected within the app, 89% of members using Kiio reported a decrease in pain and 76% reported improved function. Kiio participants experienced an average of 48% reduction in pain. In ability to perform daily tasks, the Kiio group showed an average increase of 46%.

For reference, Kiio made its pain reduction calculations using the NRS pain scale for its baseline. It made calculations for functional improvement from a baseline using the PSFS scale, which tracks member-perceived levels of difficulty performing a functional activity that the member identifies as personally relevant and negatively impacted by pain.


Tim Bartholow, MD, WEA Trust Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, said Kiio’s platform has proven its mettle during the Covid-19 pandemic surges at a time when patients were encouraged to stay away from the hospital when possible.

“With Covid compounding mental health challenges and causing members to delay appointments, the impact of Kiio’s effective pain management on not only physical but also mental wellbeing is critical. With Kiio, we’ve been able to help members reduce pain and improve quality of life while lowering employer partners’ costs.”

One important advantage of Kiio’s approach to MSK pain management and prevention is that, like most successful treatments, to ensure the best results, patients have remained motivated and adherent to therapy. Kiio’s app engages individuals, providing guidance to stay encouraged and progress tracking to see their improvement. 

Lisa Harlow, WEA Trust Director of Member Health Services observed that Kiio’s accessible solution is customized to each member’s individual needs and personal situation. 

“Our members like the flexibility and that they’re in the driver’s seat. Our team likes Kiio’s evidence-based approach and how Kiio integrates clinical practice guidelines with technology to tailor therapeutic exercise, monitor improvement, provide coaching, and report on progress.”

To learn more about Kiio’s simple, easy and effective digital MSK therapy, click this link. And follow Kiio on LinkedIn to keep current with Kiio’s latest news.

Photo: boygovideo, Getty Images