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Meds In the Workplace Mean Fewer Sick Days, Less Lost Time

A study found that employees who have access to over-the-counter medications at work can increase their productivity and reduce lost time due to illness.

Each year, thousands of employers struggle with lost time and productivity because of sick employees. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are 358 million work-loss days each year related to acute conditions.

A new study by the University of Michigan found that employees who have access to over-the-counter medications can increase their productivity and reduce lost time due to illness.

The study was conducted with a random sample of 257 hourly workers at an automotive manufacturing plant.

Results showed that 85 percent of those employees reported staying on the job when they had convenient access to over-the-counter medications within their nurse-managed program.

When over-the-counter medications were distributed to employees, the employees indicated their symptoms were reduced enough so they could stay on their jobs and finish their shifts.

The study said this confirms the impact of occupational health nurses and their role in providing employees with on-site medical care and over-the-counter medications.

"Each day I meet with employees who come to work -- even though they''re suffering from a bad cold or headache," said Debbie Woodruff, an occupational health nurse with Baxter Healthcare in Tampa Bay, Fla. "By offering them various medications to relieve their symptoms, they can still get their jobs done -- and be comfortable."

Although it is impossible to completely avoid illness in the workplace, the study suggested that the impact can be minimized with over-the-counter medication.

The study found more than 73 percent of employees surveyed regularly experienced headaches, colds and sinus problems while at work.

Almost all of those surveyed who did experience problems while at work (98 percent) said that access to medications helped them feel well enough to complete their shifts.

"This study really helped us understand the value and potential financial impact of on-site health professionals and over-the-counter medications in the workplace," said Dr. Yvonne Abdoo, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and author of the study. "We now have data that underscores just how valuable they can be in a company''s productivity by keeping workers on the job."

While companies currently provide their employees with access to over-the-counter medications like cough remedies and aspirin, those with occupational health nurses on-site can improve overall employee health and morale while impacting their company''s health care spending, the study said.

"Occupational health nurses go beyond handing out medications to sick employees," said Woodruff. "We provide more detailed explanation and the counsel needed to encourage an overall healthier lifestyle."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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