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Workplace Impact of Diabetes

Employees with type 2 diabetes cost employers an estimated $1,500 annually per employee due to reduced productivity and missed work. Drug plan spending for employees with type 2 diabetes is four times the amount of all other claimants. Employees who take disability leave because of their diabetes have an average of 15% longer leaves and remain on dis-ability for the maximum benefit period or until death.25

Diabetes is rarely the primary diagnosis in a disability claim, according to Lianne Clarke, principal, VP, wellness and disability innovation and growth, Cowan Insurance Group. “Although it may contribute to longer recoveries, it often goes unnoticed in disability claims.” In addition, says Clarke, casual or incidental absences are often not measured, “but could be a sign that an employee is struggling with symptoms of prediabetes or diabetes, and may not be properly managing their disease.”

Don’t Forget Caregivers

It should be noted that most of these figures do not account for the impact on diabetes caregivers. The toll on those who support loved ones with diabetes should not be ignored.

A. Diabetes Impact on Drug Plan Costs

Benefit plan diabetes drug spend is usually one of the first areas of concern for plan sponsors. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of costs, says Clarke. “Underneath the surface, there are a multitude of associated hard and soft costs to the organization, including increased absenteeism and presenteeism, and reduced productivity.”

According to TELUS Health, diabetes drugs were the second most costly therapeutic class for employee benefit plans, accounting for 11.4% of costs and 7.5% of claims in 2020.26 Claimants with diabetes take an average of seven medications for an annual cost of $3,020, and approximately half of the costs are attributable to drugs to treat diabetes.27 Over the past five years, the total eligible cost of drugs and supplies to treat diabetes grew 12.9%. This, in part, is attributable to the 7.5% growth in the number of claims and 5.1% increase in the number of claimants.28

The significant impact of diabetes on drug costs may be attributable to the increasing prevalence of diabetes in Canada; however, it may also be due to poorly managed diabetes.

B. Workplace Impact of Hypoglycemic Events

Studies have shown that hypoglycemia costs employers $850 annually per person with type 1 diabetes, due to reduced work productivity. When a hypoglycemia event occurred at work, 18% of people left work early or missed a full day, or 9.9 hours of work per month. A nocturnal hypoglycemia event resulted in 23% of people arriving late or missing a full day of work, or 14.7 hours of missed work per month.29

C. Mental-Health Impact of Diabetes
i. Depression30

People with diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression, which can lead to worsened blood glucose levels and diabetes complications.

ii. Diabetes Distress31, 32, 33, 34

Approximately 40% of people with type 1 diabetes experience diabetes distress, which is the mental burden and negative emotion of living with and managing diabetes. It is different from depression because people don’t have these feelings about other parts of their life; however, diabetes distress can turn into depression if these feelings last for an extended time.

“Stress plays a huge part in managing diabetes,” says Nicole Pelcz, who lives with type 1 diabetes. “Increased levels of stress for extended periods of time can lead to insulin resistance, which makes it more difficult for the body to keep blood glucose levels in range.”

iii. Diabetes Burnout35, 36

Long-term diabetes distress can lead to diabetes burnout. At first, people with diabetes may feel frustrated and exhausted by the daily management of diabetes, and if they don’t resolve their negative feelings, they begin to change their behaviour. They may no longer be motivated to follow their diabetes management plan and may stop taking care of themselves and their diabetes.

iv. Diabetes Stigma37, 38, 39, 40

“Perceived diabetes stigma can cause disempowerment, increased psychological distress and poor outcomes,” notes Krisel Quiambao, a Registered Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator and the director of clinical services, Ellerca Health Corp., a digital health firm focused on supporting chronic disease management. “It’s important that communication related to diabetes is neutral, objective and non-judgmental and that employers fight stigma related to diabetes in the workplace.”

Most people with diabetes say they’ve been stigmatized, blamed or shamed for having the condition, which can lead to far-reaching consequences. The resulting guilt, shame and self-stigma can contribute to diabetes distress or compromising self-care and ultimately poorer health outcomes. Diabetes stigma is primarily due to a lack of understanding, negative stereotypes, and myths and misconceptions, which result in misplaced judgment, blame and disrespect toward people with diabetes. Education and awareness are the best ways to fight stigma. Those dealing with guilt and self-stigma may benefit from access to mental-health professionals who can help them perceive themselves and their diabetes in a more positive way.

Diabetes – Language Matters41, 42

Inappropriate language can contribute to diabetes stigma. People with diabetes internalize insensitive messages they hear, which can lead to self-stigma and guilt, and impact their motivation, behaviours, and outcomes. Experts have recommended appropriate language for enhanced communication about and with people who have diabetes.

Diabetes Canada43 believes that people living with diabetes deserve to be spoken with and about in ways that are respectful, inclusive and value based, and recommend language used:

1. Is accessible and understandable

2. Frames thoughts, ideas and suggested directions in ways that are motivating and encouraging

3. Is empathetic and compassionate

4. Is realistic and avoids judging, shaming and/or placing blame

5. Is sensitive to the type of diabetes

6. Aligns with the preferences of the person with diabetes

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25 Advocacy-and-Policy/Diabetes-360-Recommendations.pdf
26 trends-national-benchmarks-report/
27 person-with-diabetes-understanding-the-full-cost-impact/
28 uploads/Category-Watch-March-2021.pdf
29 Brod M, Christensen T, Thomsen TL, et al. The Impact of Non-Severe Hypoglycemic Events on Work Productivity and Diabetes Management. Value in Health 4, no. 5 (July 2011): 665-71.
31 5370(21)00398-9/fulltext
32 guidelines/chapter-18#panel-tab_FullText
33 diabetes-
34 diabetes-burnout
35 diabetes-burnout
36 S0168822720306999
39 8587(18)30235-3.pdf
41 educator-tools/diabetes-language-media-guide.pdf?sfvrsn=0 
42 2671(20)30146-5/fulltext
43 2671(20)30146-5/fulltext