January 14, 2020
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Majority of employed patients with scleroderma report unmet workplace needs

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Arif Jetha, PhD,

Approximately 61% of patients with systemic sclerosis who are employed report unmet workplace support needs, and more than 80% identified extended health benefits as their most needed workplace support, according to findings published in Arthritis Care & Research.

“Our study is one of the first to provide evidence regarding the importance of employer-led interventions in promoting work productivity of employed adults living with scleroderma,” Arif Jetha, PhD, of the University of Toronto, told Healio Rheumatology. “The workplace supports that were reported as being most needed by participants with scleroderma included extended health benefits, special equipment for work, and flexible scheduling. These workplace supports have the potential to address the impact of the disease on employment engagement.”

To analyze the relationship between unmet workplace support needs and lost productivity among workers with SSc, as well as examine whether symptom severity, fatigue, active disease periods and activity limitations in the workplace impact that relationship, Jetha and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey. The researchers recruited 110 participants primarily from the Toronto Scleroderma Program, a health network comprising three hospital-based SSc clinics affiliated with the University of Toronto. All participants were aged 18 to 70 years, with a confirmed SSc diagnosis and employment within the last 5 years.

The 25-minute, telephone surveys asked participants about productivity loss — including absenteeism, presenteeism and job disruptions — as well as the need, availability and use of workplace supports. The researchers also collected information on symptom severity — including workplace activity limitations, active disease periods and fatigue — as well as demographic, health and work characteristics. To assess the link between unmet workplace support needs and each productivity loss outcome Jetha and colleagues used three Bayesian path models. Symptom severity variables were analyzed as mediators in each model.

Approximately 61% of patients with systemic sclerosis who are employed report unmet workplace support needs, and more than 80% identified extended health benefits as their most needed workplace support, according to findings.

According to the researchers, 61% of participants reported unmet workplace support needs. Among the most needed workplace supports, 84% identified extended health benefits, while 63% cited special equipment and 59% named flex time. In addition, path models demonstrated significant indirect links between unmet workplace support needs and work productivity loss. Workplace activity limitations mediated this relationship in all models.

“Our analytical models indicated that the relationship between unmet workplace support needs and lost productivity was most significant for those who experienced greater workplace activity limitations,” Jetha said. “Meeting workplace support needs has the potential to address activity limitations and minimize the number of workdays missed due to scleroderma and the extent to which a person reports working while unwell and health-related job disruptions.” – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.