A mammoth new study on chronic disease and workforce productivity confirms that earlier findings that comorbity is a significant factor in absenteeism, and for the first time illustrates the importance of medication adherence as part of an integrated disease management strategy.

The study, which examined data from more than 64,000 workers with chronic health conditions, was coordinated by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Alere Health and the Integrated Benefits Institute and published in this week’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It is a follow-up to a 2009 study by the same group titled “Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy,” which suggested that employers’ health-related lost productivity costs for chronic diseases are significantly higher than their medical and pharmacy costs. 

The latest analysis supports the view that to be most effective, workforce health and productivity initiatives require integrated prevention strategies, according to Dr. Ron Loeppke, vice president of ACOEM and lead investigator of the study.

“These include primary and secondary prevention, such as wellness and screening services, as well as tertiary prevention, such as medication adherence and disease management,” he explains. “Employers should understand that every individual presents a unique combination of health risks and comorbidities, and they should be wary of focusing on single diseases or one-dimensional approaches as they assess worker health.”

While the study authors say more investigation is needed on the connection between health-risk status, comorbidity and medication adherence on productivity, the study strongly supports the need for employers to manage the growing impact of chronic disease on their workers.

“Our earlier study demonstrated that chronic health problems are costly for employers and must be taken into account,” says Vince Haufle, senior health care analyst for Alere. “This study offers further support of that finding, while demonstrating that comorbidities and health risks are a more important part of the equation than many employers may realize. The findings highlight that comprehensive services are needed to help improve worker health and manage costs.”

Thomas Parry, president of IBI, notes: “While the cost and impact on productivity from chronic disease continues to rise in the workplace, it’s important to remember that chronic health conditions, in many circumstances, are preventable. That’s why continued research and better understanding of chronic conditions are essential to workplace productivity, and why prevention should be a foundational underpinning of our national efforts aimed at this problem.”

The authors’ 2009 study recommended further research on the impact of medication adherence on lost productivity. The new research showed, among other things, that statin medication adherence in individuals with coronary artery disease was significant predictor of decreasing absenteeism, and that insulin, oral hypoglycemic, or metformin medication adherence in type 2 diabetics was predictor of decreasing job performance.

To access the study, visit the JOEM website.

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