Employed MS Patients Have Lower Productivity, Reduced Health-related Quality of Life, Study Shows

Employed MS Patients Have Lower Productivity, Reduced Health-related Quality of Life, Study Shows

Employed individuals with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) have lower work productivity, reduced health-related quality of life, and use more healthcare resources than individuals who do not have multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study shows.

The study, “Burden of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis on workers in the US: a cross-sectional analysis of survey data,” was published in the journal BMC Neurology.

MS is frequently diagnosed among individuals of working age (20–60 years); as a result, the disease can present a higher burden on work productivity. However, there is limited data available about absenteeism and presenteeism   among employed individuals with MS in comparison to people without MS.

(Absenteeism is the practice of regularly staying away from work, while presenteeism is defined as employees coming to work despite having an illness and, as a consequence, performing their work under suboptimal conditions.)

American researchers now have conducted a study to quantify the burden of illness among employed U.S. adults with RRMS, the most prevalent form of MS. Researchers performed a retrospective cross-sectional analysis using patient-reported responses from the U.S. National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS) 2015–2016.

Data from 196 employed RRMS respondents were analyzed. These patients were matched in a 1:4 ratio to employed individuals without MS, based on demographic and general health characteristics.

Work productivity (including absenteeism, presenteeism, and work impairment), health-related quality of life (HRQoL), and healthcare resource utilization were compared between RRMS and healthy controls.

Researchers found that only 36.1% of the surveyed respondents with RRMS were employed at the time of the study (average age 45.2 years). When comparing outcomes between the two groups, results revealed significantly lower health status among respondents with RRMS relative to healthy controls.

Importantly, researchers found that absenteeism and presenteeism were 2 and 1.8 times higher, respectively, in the employed RRMS population compared to the employed non-MS population.

HRQoL, which was measured using the Short Form-36 and EQ-5D, was significantly lower for employed respondents with RRMS than those without MS. Researchers also found that employed respondents with RRMS used  significantly more healthcare resources during a six-month period compared to those without MS.

Furthermore, among employed respondents with RRMS, greater levels of impairment were associated with increasing disease severity, cognitive impairment, fatigue, and greater healthcare resource use, while it was inversely correlated with mental and physical HRQoL.

“Among employed individuals, respondents with RRMS had lower work productivity, HRQoL, and higher HCRU [healthcare resource use] as compared with those without MS,” the researchers concluded.

According to the team, reducing disease symptoms, through the use of disease-modifying therapies for instance, potentially could decrease the associated burden and work force impact. This is particularly important in the context of RRMS, as individuals often are diagnosed in early to middle adulthood when they are part of the workforce.

“Given the large impact RRMS has on work impairment, a need exists to manage individuals on therapies that improve HRQoL, reduce symptoms, and improve their ability to perform in the workforce,” the researchers suggested.

Iqra holds a MSc in Cellular and Molecular Medicine from the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada. She also holds a BSc in Life Sciences from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. Currently, she is completing a PhD in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology from the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada. Her research has ranged from across various disease areas including Alzheimer’s disease, myelodysplastic syndrome, bleeding disorders and rare pediatric brain tumors.
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Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.
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Iqra holds a MSc in Cellular and Molecular Medicine from the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada. She also holds a BSc in Life Sciences from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. Currently, she is completing a PhD in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology from the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada. Her research has ranged from across various disease areas including Alzheimer’s disease, myelodysplastic syndrome, bleeding disorders and rare pediatric brain tumors.
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24 comments

  1. Heidi says:

    I really get annoyed at these generalist findings with very small sample sizes. I have filled in for managers and other employees who took way more time off work than me, I am known to deliver on time and to high quality. I have taken on work, in addition to my own, that others have failed to finish so as to get the job done. I rarely have time off work but anyone reading this will think of MSers …better not employ one they’re not going to deliver. So now we have a prejudice about MS workers based in a sample of fewer than 200 people. Maybe there should be some I to on people who have MS but “against the odds” are thriving and succeeding.

    • Annette says:

      I agree Heidi. Not only was the size small, but 31% were not employed so the number was really only about 133 employed people. In addition, the number was generated by the US National Health and Wellness Survey. I know both of my children, who are employed full time and have MS don’t have time to fill out a survey.

    • Jeanette Williams says:

      I would have agreed with you Heidi up until one year ago when my MS and health Issues started to really affect my ability to work. I had worked full-time for 12 years after my RRMS diagnosis but I now see how that affected my health. I really had no quality of life for the last 6 months that I worked. The stress was literally killing me. I am now off work and planning to apply for an SSA disability claim. I am not surprised by the outcome of this study and I feel supported by it in some ways. I would not have agreed 5 or 10 years ago when I planned to work until I was 65.

  2. J Howell says:

    I mean…not to be flippant, but the gist seems to be “People with a chronic, often disabling disease have a harder time at work than healthy people who don’t.”

    Doesn’t exactly take Sherlock Holmes to sleuth that one.

  3. All I have to say to this researcher is, “UH DUH!” They really got a grant for this study this so it could be counted as “published” on a resume? The information is so OBVIOUS that I cannot believe that they even had the nerve to write it. They have all this education and this is the best they could come up with?! I am happy that Heidi (1st post) is pursuing a career with no problems; but the vast majority of us do not have that luxury. It’s hard to concentrate when fatigue sets in and pain is a constant companion. Maybe if the researcher had MS then they would see how ridiculous this article actually is.

  4. Stephanie G Spain says:

    I get annoyed with these studies that lead people to believe that if one is taking a ‘disease modifying drug’ that all should be hunkey-dorey. Those drugs (and I have tried several different ones) really do nothing to change how you already feel. They are meant to stop or slow disease progression. Also, I resent the implication that practical help is readily available. I assure you that unless you live in a large city with a research hospital, assistance is scarce, and if it is there, it is unaffordable.

  5. Marilyn Myers says:

    Unfortunately, this site would NOT let met rate it as a one Star!!! Like someone needed to spend time/money on a study that says people with MS use significantly more health resources than those without MS? DUH!!! Anyone who’s had ANY type of medical test knows this…..it’s not rocket science!!! I worked a full time job as a nurse with MS for 20 years; rarely had a day off for illness, and could work circles around some of my co-workers! Wonder what type of participants the author studied! This study not worth the paper it could be printed on!

  6. WJ says:

    This study pretty well says if you have MS then your life as an employed adult is over. BS. MS is hard enough without some “study” that may or may not be accurate is published as fact.

  7. Robin says:

    I am really failing to see any possible benefit for people with MS from the underlying study or this article. Why can’t somebody study the factors that make people with MS succeed at work? Or at least parse out what’s caused by DMT side effects vs. the disease itself.

  8. Stacy Jennings says:

    Agreed. Who decided to waste $$$ on this research. How about using the $$$ on something worthwhile, like STOPPING MS! We with MS work hard, and know how hard it is to work.

  9. mctimc says:

    DUH! My wife has had ms for over 17 years and has continued to work through it all. Many times she would come home in tears because of leg pain after working a full day’s shift. Never complained once. Still working despite increased spasticity and loss of motor movements. We had to call corporate office several times before her employer would let her park in the handicap parking spot (she has a decal). Better study would be how employers can improve the work experience for people with MS. Also, have DMT side effects contributed to the loss of productivity at all? How does that compare with improvement from DMTs? Figure that out please.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Many patients (not all, as has been pointed out) are truly too challenged by MS to hold down jobs. Such patients need smoother routes to disability pay. Far too many patients are impoverished by MS and yet still don’t qualify for needed and deserved disabilities.

    The idea that getting patients on treatments will help them lead more normal lives is quite the fiction. MS meds tend to give patients horrible side effects such as fever, vomiting, rashes, and diarrhea. Of course, feeling sick from treatments that never end is not going to help patients to do well in the workforce.

    The silly MS studies don’t help anyone and are a waste of money that could be better spent.

  11. Andrew Nolan says:

    This study would not reflect my work practices. I’ve been working the same place since diagnosis and it involves 12 hour shifts doing days and nights, but no longer do the night shifts. In the beginning it was tough, but my system settled into it. I don’t pull ‘sickies’ or slack off in work. If anything I call others on their work ethics when it’s lacking. Thirteen years and have yet to use any meds.

  12. sean says:

    Thanks for putting more of a bad label on sick people. So those that are able to work are a drain on employers? Painting with a very broad brush and for what purpose? Is this meant to continue to keep MSers in the closet about their disease or ward off employers from employing people with MS who are brave enough to come out of the closet about their disease based upon over generalized statistics. How about a study that says old people are less productive and likely to die? How about one that says no one gets out of here alive so don’t employ anyone as they may use healthcare? Or why not use your resources to fight for single payer healthcare so employers aren’t worried about their rising individual corp healthcare premiums. Why not?? Because this article was to push drugs and tailored toward the managing symptoms not finding a cure market. Jerks.

  13. jenn says:

    Kudos to those who have been at university, paid thousands of dollars for their education and spent countless hours studying to bring us such pointless and generalised findings. I take my hat off to you and give you a round of applause 🙂

    Having been diagnosed earlier this year I strive even harder to find ways of doing my gruelling role to the absolute fullest… and shine in the process.

    What is the value add in these findings? Acceptance? It is what it is? Inability to do our jobs effectively? Just call it a day? Give up?
    All because the tingles in my mouth, my inability to walk in a completely straight line and the pins and needles in my left foot stop my from doing my role to its peak? I don’t think so.

    It is these attributes and more that make me strive to be better, fight harder and smile bigger, especially when work is concerned.

    Supporting a finance business unit of more than 600 people and a Leadership Team of Executives, Managers and Senior Managers is no easy task. I refuse for my condition to be the reason I cannot perform my role…

    How about look at the other side of the equation- what about those wanting to prove the stats incorrect. Those wanting to go against the grain. Those wanting to be the difference.

    I will NEVER give up and I will continue to prove my Neurologist wrong… My scans will say one thing but my determination will always outweigh those results.

    Waving a white flag will never be an option for me.

  14. jenn says:

    Kudos to those who have been at university, paid thousands of dollars for their education and spent countless hours studying to bring us such pointless and generalised findings. I take my hat off to you and give you a round of applause 🙂

    Having been diagnosed earlier this year I strive even harder to find ways of doing my gruelling role to the absolute fullest… and shine in the process.

    What is the value add in these findings? Acceptance? It is what it is? Inability to do our jobs effectively? Just call it a day? Give up?
    All because the tingles in my mouth, my inability to walk in a completely straight line and the pins and needles in my left foot stop me from doing my role to its peak? I don’t think so.

    It is these attributes and more that make me strive to be better, fight harder and smile bigger, especially when work is concerned.

    Supporting a finance business unit of more than 600 people and a Leadership Team of Executives, Managers and Senior Managers is no easy task. I refuse for my condition to be the reason I cannot perform my role…

    How about look at the other side of the equation- what about those wanting to prove the stats incorrect. Those wanting to go against the grain. Those wanting to be the difference.

    I will NEVER give up and I will continue to prove my Neurologist wrong… My scans will say one thing but my determination will always outweigh those results.

    Waving a white flag will never be an option for me.

  15. Ruth says:

    This is a complicated issue. I have had RRMS for 25 years. I am a personal trainer/exercise physiologist with three masters degrees. I worked with individuals with disabilities. I loved working and enjoyed it but my performance was not what the position required. I tried by staying at work later each day, working on weekends and taking work home but it did not help. I did not think I had cognitive difficulties. Now I can accept that I did.

    Sometimes it is hard to accept the changes that come about because of MS. I am very informed MSer, I am in constant contact with my physician, I read medical studies and I still could not see what was happening to me. This is just one study. It is good to have this information if you are having problems at work. It is also good information to use to begin a dialog with your employer if you notice you are occasionally not as productive (presentism) as you usually are. This study does not mean all individuals eventually will not work productively. Like the disease itself, MS affects us all indivually.

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