Why Hybrid Care Is a Game Changer for MSK Treatment

From low back and knee pain to chronic osteoarthritis, unexpected injuries, and surgical rehab, musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are common, pervasive, and on the rise. In fact, approximately 1.71 billion people worldwide are currently living with MSK conditions—a number that has been rapidly increasing due to population growth and aging.1 In the U.S., 1 in 2 adults report an MSK condition each year.2

MSK conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain the single leading cause in 160 countries and arthritis the primary factor in the U.S.3,4 Patients face limited mobility and dexterity, which can lead to early retirement from work, lower levels of well-being, and reduced ability to participate in society.

On top of that, MSK disorders are expensive to treat, costing the U.S. healthcare system a grand total of over $380 billion—more than any other category of care.5 According to CMS 2023 National Health Expenditure (NHE) Fact Sheet, the NHE grew 4.1 percent to $4.5 trillion in 2022, and 12 to14 percent of all healthcare spending went to MSK care.6

The need for timely, high-quality, and cost-effective MSK care is very real—at a time when the industry is facing a shortage of physical therapists and other MSK providers. According to survey data collected by the American Physical Therapy Association, the job vacancy rate for PTs in outpatient settings is 17 percent.7 Wait times are generally long across the U.S., with many patients waiting weeks or months for appointments while facing ongoing pain or a disabling injury.8

The Solution: Hybrid Care

For physical therapy, fully in-person care and fully virtual care both have drawbacks. When clinics offer only in-person care, patients face longer wait times, grow disengaged between sessions, and have trouble making all of their appointments—potentially falling behind with their progress. At the same time, fully virtual appointments don’t allow for hands-on care and often remove the local provider from the picture altogether.

That’s why the hybrid healthcare model is becoming increasingly popular. Hybrid care combines the best aspects of in-person visits and digital care into a single holistic solution. It allows clinics to triage patients according to risk level, schedule them more easily, and provide faster access to care—ultimately making it easier to manage high volumes of patients more efficiently and effectively.

Hybrid care works by drawing on technology for virtual sessions, patient monitoring and progress tracking, patient education, automated reminders, and home exercises while incorporating regular in-person care as needed. Virtual care consultations can be offered as a standalone option for low-risk patients or as a supplement to in-person care that helps bridge the gap between sessions.

Learn more about how hybrid care is helping one organization drive ongoing patient engagement in our free on-demand webinar The Future of Physical Therapy Is Hybrid: A Discussion with Ivy Rehab.

Benefits of Hybrid Care

Key benefits of hybrid care include:

Aligns with Patient Preference

As modern consumers, patients are increasingly seeking convenience, flexibility, and greater personalization in their healthcare experience. Virtual care aligns well with these preferences, giving patients the ability to schedule appointments that suit their schedules and eliminate travel time, making it easier for them to receive care without disrupting their work day or having to leave the comfort of home. Younger generations in particular are accustomed to using digital platforms and expect similar options for accessing healthcare services.

Many patients seek out convenient, flexible care through physical therapy apps or services. These comprehensive third-party platforms are often used by clinics to triage patients, analyze patient data, and deliver streamlined, personalized care. While they can vastly improve the quality and efficiency of care delivery, one important drawback to keep in mind is that if they aren’t designed to be used in tandem with in-person visits, they can silo patients in a way that disconnects them from their care team. By using a high-quality hybrid care solution that complements in-person visits, you can improve patient rapport, connection, and satisfaction.

Reduces Cost of Care

Because MSK disorders are such a significant cost burden for healthcare organizations, it’s important for organizations to find ways to lower the cost of treating MSK patients.

Hybrid MSK care allows outpatient rehab clinics to more accurately triage patients, ending the expensive practice of patients being automatically referred directly to a surgery team for triage. Hybrid care also helps reduce unnecessary in-person visits throughout an episode of care, improving both the cost of care and quality by keeping patients better engaged between visits.

Improves Continuity of Care

One of the primary benefits of hybrid care is the ability to bridge the gap between patient and provider. With hybrid care, the goal isn’t to provide less care, but rather more targeted care. Even in a traditional model, the vast majority of the patients’ time will be spent outside of the clinic, so what they do at home is even more crucial to their recovery than what happens in person.

A hybrid care model allows more interaction between the care team and the patient when they are outside the clinic, so clinicians can maximize the time they get in person with their patients. It’s not about losing visits but about gaining more frequent touchpoints that help promote consistent patient engagement and activation.

Elevates Outcomes

One modality of care has proven to be the most effective in treating musculoskeletal conditions: early physical therapy. Hybrid care allows patients to receive targeted physical therapy as soon as they need it, shortening episodes of care and reducing costs while significantly improving patient outcomes. Early physical therapy has been shown to result in:

  • A 46 percent reduction in the incidence of spine surgeries
  • A 50 percent lower emergency room utilization for acute low back pain
  • A 10 percent reduction in long-term opioid usage
  • A 48 percent reduction in spine injections
  • A 58 percent reduction in imaging utilization 9,10

MedBridge Is Your Partner in Hybrid Digital Care

Introducing MedBridge Pathways

MedBridge Pathways is our new provider-first digital MSK care platform, purpose-built to keep therapy at the forefront of care and help organizations deliver superior patient outcomes across the musculoskeletal care spectrum.

By supplementing existing in-person programs with a variety of digital care pathways based on patient acuity, Pathways engages patients with therapy-driven care that incorporates their condition and lifestyle, and delivers that valuable data back into the clinician’s hands so they can leverage their expertise. Programs are personalized through an onboarding questionnaire that takes into account each patient’s pain, goals, and activity levels. Patients are guided through exercises by evidence-based progression criteria in multiple phases:

  • Engaging video, text, and interactive education provide a guide for the patient, supporting them throughout their rehab journey.
  • Gamification and data-driven progress tracking motivate patients to complete their program.
  • Periodic surveys and PROs are collected to help measure progress, identify red flags, and manage progression.

MedBridge Pathways won’t disrupt the clinician-patient relationship; instead, it empowers providers to keep patients in their ecosystem for a lifetime of care. With Pathways, providers can supplement brick-and-mortar care with a cutting-edge, digitally-enabled therapy platform that gives patients a modern and convenient care experience, improves health outcomes, and allows higher care capacity while reducing the provider workload and lowering costs.

Learn more about how Pathways can help your organization deliver superior outcomes in our free on-demand webinar Unveiling a Digitally-Empowered Future for Patient Care.


  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/musculoskeletal-conditions
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160301114116.htm
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/musculoskeletal-conditions
  4. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/musculoskeletal-conditions
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/relatedconditions.html
  6. https://www.cms.gov/data-research/statistics-trends-and-reports/national-health-expenditure-data/nhe-fact-sheet
  7. https://fortune.com/well/2023/11/28/why-long-wait-physical-therapy-united-states/
  8. https://fortune.com/well/2023/11/28/why-long-wait-physical-therapy-united-states/
  9. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/early-physical-therapy-associated-with-lesshealth-care-resource-use-for-patients-with-acute-lower-back-pain
  10. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/12/early-physical-therapy-can-reduce-risk-of-long-term-opioduse.html