When most people think about disability, they mainly focus on physical conditions: blindness, deafness, amputation, amongst others. These are what those in the disability community call visible disabilities; you can literally see, for example, that someone is a wheelchair user. Likewise, there are intellectual disabilities—autism being perhaps the most well known—that are invisible. You generally can’t identify an autistic person from a distance. The differentiation is important because it shows disability can take many forms, and that able-bodied people should not be so hasty in mislabeling something—and someone—they honestly know nothing about.
So it goes with other types of medical conditions, like chronic pain. To use one example, migraines are a type of chronic pain that is as disabling (and debilitating) as any physical disability. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in America.
The team at Lin Health knows this. Since launching in late 2021, they’ve made it their mission to treat chronic pain as more than a mere symptom. As the company says on their website: “Persistent pain isn’t just a symptom, it’s a medical condition that needs to be properly diagnosed and addressed head-on. That’s exactly what we do.”
Dr. Abigail Hirsch is a clinical psychologist who serves on Lin Health’s leadership team. In a recent interview conducted over email, she described the company as a “chronic pain recovery program that teaches our members how to break their pain cycle so they can begin to reclaim their lives, without pain at its center.” One in five people in the United States, and billions more worldwide, are affected by chronic pain in some way. This constant and unrelenting pain, Dr. Hirsch said, “takes a heavy toll on just about every facet of life.” She added Lin’s philosophy towards effective treatment of patients is based on newfound scientific evidence that has “dramatically shifted our understanding of pain and how to treat it.” Lin was designed around this research culminating in what Dr. Hirsch described as “a holistic, totally customized, evidence-based pain recovery experience for people living with chronic pain.”
Lin Health is unique in that its focus is all-digital—they have embraced the notion of telemedicine. This is fitting for the world’s stage at the moment, as we collectively enter on third year amidst a pandemic. Indeed, Covid-19 has played a significant role in determining Lin’s direction. “Covid-19 raised awareness around digital health and really opened the gates for remote care,” Dr. Hirsch said. “The world has never seen more people willing to do a visit with their doctor via phone or video.” That the virus has forced everyone to stay at home, the stars aligned such that Lin could really lean into the remote aspect of service. Lin saw the opening and took advantage, according to Dr. Hirsch. “This [telemedicine] is obviously where we’re headed, and Covid made that piece a little easier for us by allowing us to step into a market that has already seen value in the concept,” she said. “We had an opportunity to build a product that serves people’s greatest needs in the pandemic and we’ve been running with it.”
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However disruptive and unsettling adapting to new ways of life since the onset of the pandemic have been for the masses, the reality has always been true for disabled people. Adapting is not a way of life, it is the way of life. Those in the disability community are perpetually having to adjust their lives to accommodate a society that does not accommodate them. Disabled people have long known, for instance, that working from home is preferable and more accessible. Working remotely is absolutely not a novel concept wrought by the pandemic; it’s that able-bodied people were late to catch up to that realization. In Lin’s case, many people may find video calls with their medical team more accessible than trekking outside to a traditional clinical setting. Not only can virtual appointments mitigate chances for pain flare-ups, they also quite obviously mitigate the odds of getting infected with Covid—especially for those who are immunocompromised, or who have respiratory issues that make breathing hard.
Dr. Hirsch told me Lin has “many members” (and some employees) who identify as disabled. Remote care has been a “game-changer” for patients with disabilities, she said. Dr. Hirsch explained the company holds themselves to a high standard in terms of cultivating inclusivity. There are regular accessibility audits, where the software’s user interface is assessed to ensure it’s accessible to screen readers, et al. (The team uses an accessibility consultant.) The goal is to provide users with “the most inclusive experience for the fullest range of people with different needs,” Dr. Hirsch said.
As for feedback, Dr. Hirsch said “we’re getting a lot of love.” Many people have come to Lin after experiencing years of persistent pain, and are overjoyed at the results from working with Lin doctors. Patients meet with their coaches three times per week on average, steadily building up the knowledge and techniques necessary to fight their chronic pain. The results have been remarkable, as 90% of patients have been able to lower their pain intensity and its interference on their everyday lives.
Looking towards the future, Dr. Hirsch said Lin’s goal is simple. They’re working tirelessly to get the word about the company, as well as getting the message out that there is hope and real solutions in dealing with chronic pain.
“We want people to know that there is hope,” she said.