Pharmaceuticals and worker productivity loss: a critical review of the literature

J Occup Environ Med. 2003 Jun;45(6):610-21. doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000069244.06498.01.


Many chronic illnesses that affect the working population can cause losses in productivity. The extent to which these productivity losses can be reduced by pharmacological treatment is of particular interest to employers, who bear the productivity costs and subsidize the cost of employees' health care. In the past several years, the effects of pharmaceuticals on productivity losses have been tested in numerous studies, including randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. In this article, we summarize and critically review these studies and, where appropriate, provide quantitative overviews. The evidence is very good for about a dozen drug classes that pharmaceuticals reduce productivity losses caused by respiratory illnesses (ie, asthma, allergic disorders, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, and influenza) diabetes, depression, dysmenorrhea, and migraine. We also discuss the calculation of productivity costs, reductions in which may partially or completely offset the costs of treatment. This information should be helpful to occupational physicians who are increasingly providing recommendations on employer benefit plan designs and pharmaceutical benefits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Chronic Disease / drug therapy*
  • Chronic Disease / economics
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Efficiency* / drug effects
  • Employer Health Costs*
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome