Objective: To investigate 1) the magnitude of indirect costs, 2) changes in cost components, and 3) correlations between changes in cost and social, clinical, and occupational variables within the first 3 years of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: We evaluated the indirect costs per person-year in 133 consecutive gainfully employed out-patients with early RA, in a prospective multicenter followup study. Costs due to RA-related sick leave, work disability, and other work loss were assessed using the human capital approach. Variables associated with reduction in lost productivity were tested by multivariate logistic regression analysis.
Results: Mean +/- SEM annual indirect costs were $11,750 +/- 1,120 per person. During the 3-year period of observation, a marked reduction in the costs associated with sick leave was seen, which exceeded the increase in costs due to work disability and other work loss. This phenomenon resulted in an overall reduction in indirect costs of 21%. The final logistic regression model of reduced loss of productivity included 3 variables: no problems with standing (odds ratio [OR] 7.1), no problems with working speed (OR 4.1), and no problems with outdoor work (OR 3.1).
Conclusion: High indirect costs in early RA were demonstrated. An overall decrease of costs can be seen in the first 3 years, due to the reduction in sick leave. Since the absence of problems due to strenuous working conditions was found to be associated with a reduction in indirect costs, it is assumed that early intensified vocational rehabilitation, apart from controlling disease activity by adequate treatment, might help to reduce indirect costs.