Alternative Medicine, Worker Health, and Absenteeism in the United States

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SOURCE:   Complement Ther Med. 2017 (Jun); 32: 116–128

Kate Rybczynski

Department of Economics,
University of Waterloo,
200 University Avenue West,
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada

Health related absenteeism costs an estimated $153 billion annually in the United States (Witters and Agrawal, 2011).   Chronic conditions (major contributors to absenteeism) are often successfully managed by Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). As CAM becomes an increasingly visible component of healthcare, firms may wish to consider whether CAM therapies can help reduce illness-related absenteeism. This paper aims to extend the literature on healthcare utilization and absenteeism by exploring whether CAM treatment is associated with fewer workdays missed due to illness.

METHODS:   Using the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and propensity score matching (PSM), this study estimates the relationship between visits to CAM practitioners, health, and illness-related absenteeism.

RESULTS:   In a sample of 8,820 workers, the average annual number of workdays lost due to illness is 3.69. Visiting an acupuncturist correlates with lower absenteeism among men (1.182 fewer workdays missed, p<0.05), whereas visiting a naturopathic doctor correlates with 2.359 and 2.521 fewer workdays missed for women and men, respectively (both p<0.001). Active mind-body practices, massage, chiropractic and acupuncture treatments are all significantly associated with improved health.

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CONCLUSIONS:   Estimates suggest that some CAM modalities correlate with lower absenteeism, and many correlate with improved health. Two limitations of this study are worth noting. First, a small proportion of the sample uses CAM, limiting the generalizability of results. Second, if health conscious individuals are more likely to use CAM, then health attitudes may be contributing to lower absenteeism among the treated. Further research is needed to identify a causal relationship between CAM treatment, health, and absenteeism.

KEYWORDS:   Complementary and alternative medicine; Health; Illness-related absenteeism