Last month, IBI highlighted a study showing that productivity losses do not end when a hospitalized employee is discharged. Depending on the quality of care received, a hospitalization could impact an employee's earning capacity for the next three years.

The study (co-authored by Thomas Parry Fellow Adelina Wang of Stanford University) focused on the experiences of Danish workers. However, IBI's summary argues that the findings are relevant to other nations—including to the U.S., where employers' health care and disability insurance benefits play an income safety-net role filled elsewhere by government.

Right on schedule, a new study published in CMAJ (the Canadian Medical Association Journal) corroborates the link between hospitalization and an employee's ability to work. While not focused on hospital quality, the study finds that Canadian employees who were hospitalized for heart attack, cardiac arrest, or stroke had employment and earnings losses that persisted for at least three years. For example, compared to employees with no hospitalization, employment rates of those hospitalized for heart attack were 5 percentage points lower three years after the event. The impacts of cardiac arrest and stroke were even stronger (13 and 20 percentage point lower employment rates, respectively). For patients who did resume employment, the study found significantly lower earnings for patients than their counterparts who were not hospitalized.

The findings of both studies underscore the importance of considering the productivity impact of illness—and the broader value of health—when designing employee health benefits. The potential payoff for designing plans that promote better health habits and provide access to higher quality care is greater than the reduced risk of costly emergency department visits or inpatient stays. The business value of healthy employees who are at work consistently, helping the company operate at a high level, is also on the table.