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The shift to remote working due to the coronavirus pandemic is helping 77 per cent of employees with chronic conditions and/or chronic pain miss less work, according to the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

Just over a third (34 per cent) of plan members said remote working definitely helped them miss less work due to their chronic condition and/or chronic pain. The home environment is especially beneficial for those with arthritis (93 per cent) or chronic pain (83 per cent). Meanwhile, members with a mental-health issue are somewhat less likely (68 per cent) to have said working from home has meant they’ve missed less work due to their condition.

Read: Pandemic shifting benefits plan challenges for sponsors, members: Benefits Canada survey

“It makes sense that employees can better manage their health conditions when they work from home,” said Meghan Vallis, an advisory board member and vice-president for group sales for Western Canada at the Equitable Life Insurance Co., in the report. “This finding reminds us that we can do better at the worksite so employees feel more comfortable and confident about being able to manage their health when at work. Convenience and privacy are important factors.”

The survey also found almost half (47 per cent) of plan members agreed their chronic condition and/or chronic pain has caused them to miss work and/or made it harder to do their job, down from 58 per cent in 2020. Meanwhile, 60 per cent of plan members with chronic pain reported it has caused them to miss work and/or made it harder to do their job.

When combined with other chronic conditions, 72 per cent of plan members have a chronic condition and/or chronic pain. Almost half (45 per cent) of members reported chronic pain, defined as pain that never really goes away, lasts for months or “flares up” from time to time, compared to 48 per cent in 2020. Chronic pain is more likely for plan members who have arthritis (82 per cent), a mental-health condition (61 per cent) or lung disease (60 per cent). It’s also more likely among those experiencing high levels of stress (59 per cent).

Read: Supporting employees with chronic conditions amid pandemic-fueled delays to care

More than half (60 per cent) of plan members reported having been diagnosed with at least one chronic condition; however, plan sponsors estimated that just 34 per cent of their workforce has a chronic condition. And the top conditions are: mental-health issues (21 per cent), high blood pressure (14 per cent), high cholesterol (14 per cent), arthritis (12 per cent), asthma/lung disease (10 per cent), eczema (eight per cent) and diabetes (seven per cent).

The pandemic hasn’t significantly impacted the percentage of plan members with a chronic condition as the incidence of 60 per cent is comparable to last year (58 per cent) and previous years. Thought, it climbs to 79 per cent among those in poor health and 76 per cent among members who are 55 and older.

“For many people with chronic conditions, the pandemic has exacerbated their conditions due to delayed treatments, reduced physical activity and increased anxiety, among other factors,” said Andrea Frankel, an advisory board member and lead, private payer at Sanofi Canada, in the report. “The sick are getting sicker. The value of workplace supports, starting with a comprehensive benefits plan, has never been greater.”

Read: Webinar: Coronavirus and chronic disease: What are the effects on the workforce?