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Short-term sick leaves accentuated in chronic diseases – register studies provide new information
Employees with chronic diseases use more occupational healthcare services and absenteeism is higher. This was demonstrated by studying patient groups with rheumatic diseases, migraine as well as knee and hip osteoarthritis. Each of the studies was conducted in a different patient population and compared to a matched control group. The studies were conducted by Medaffcon together with Pfizer, Novartis and AbbVie.
Data for these studies was obtained from the biggest occupational healthcare provider in Finland, Terveystalo, which has health data records of ca. three million people since 2012. Including short-term sick leaves in the analyses was novel, because short sick leaves are often lacking in corresponding research settings.
The results demonstrate that despite the different nature of various chronic diseases, early diagnosis enables patients to access treatment earlier and to receive more effective treatment. Effective treatment is reflected in maintaining a patient’s ability to work and decreased costs.
Chronic diseases double the number of sick leaves
Medaffcon’s Scientific Advisor Liisa Ukkola-Vuoti was involved in the research groups. According to her, the data demonstrated that a Finnish employee is absent from work due to sickness on average 8.5 days a year. Patients with chronic diseases have at least double the number of sick leaves. They also use more occupational healthcare services than others, which contributes to rising costs.
For the employer, the cost of an absence day due to sickness is on average 300 EUR.
According to Neurology Specialist Markku Nissilä, Director of Biobank activities at Terveystalo, short-term absences are typical especially with migraine. The significance of sick leaves becomes accentuated when the number of patients is large: Out of working-age people, ten per cent suffer from migraine. The majority of those are women.
“Treatment deficit should always be examined, because it means large costs”, states Nissilä.
Chronic diseases differ from each other, of course. For example, people suffering from rheumatic diseases and osteoarthritis are usually over 40 years, but migraine is common in much younger people and mostly in the working-age population. Osteoarthritis in turn, involves long rehabilitation periods in addition to better and worse periods. Regardless of the disease, maintaining the ability to work is important.
Terveystalo data lake provides information on short-term sick leaves and working age population
Ukkola-Vuoti praises Terveystalo data lake as a data source for real-world evidence studies.
The data lake also provides data on sick leaves that last less than 10 days. That data is not available in social insurance registers, since Kela only registers sick leaves that last longer than 10 days.
According to Nissilä, Terveystalo data lake differs from the public healthcare data sources as it includes a lot of data on the working-age population. The public healthcare registries tend to be more focused on the older population.
According to Ukkola-Vuoti, there are many diseases that cause short-term absences, and only a fraction has been analysed from this perspective. The more we known, the better workplaces and healthcare services can take into account the special needs required in maintaining the ability to work. Providing more suitable work or part-time work would be a better option for the employee than recurrent absences.
“It would be interesting to examine the number of short-term sick leaves and the use of occupational healthcare services, for example, in relation to chronic cancer diseases”, states Ukkola-Vuoti.
Studies mapping short-term absences provide new information on the burden caused by diseases for healthcare services and the society. For example, the majority of migraine patients would benefit from more effective treatment. More effective disease management and treatment could prevent negative impacts of a chronic disease on the patients’ health, quality of life and wellbeing at work.
Liisa joined Medaffcon in January 2020. She has over ten years of experience of working as a scientific advisor and research scientist for private and public sector organizations. Liisa holds a PhD in medical genetics, and she mentions that especially the therapeutic areas related neurology and psychiatry appeal to her.
Liisa’s strengths include strong expertise on medical sciences and research, as well as on creating evidence-based content, because she also has experience of being a science book author. Establishing cross-scientific collaboration, scientific exchange, and creating networks are one of her key work philosophies.
One of her main professional interests is the secondary use of health-related data to create real-world-evidence in order to improve and develop treatment practices. ”Due to the unique registries and data lakes available in Finland, in principle all the required data is already available or accumulating all the time, which makes it important to utilize this real-world-data to improve patient care and general well-being.”