Chronic conditions are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia and have lasting physical, psychological, social and financial impacts on individuals, communities and the health-care system. Productivity is a key area affected by chronic conditions—factors such as absenteeism, decreases in work performance due to illness, premature mortality, as well as the impact on study, recreation, and participation in and enjoyment of community life have been adversely linked to chronic conditions.

Respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions are 2 groups of chronic conditions associated with substantial productivity loss and activity impairment. This scoping study assesses the available data sources for monitoring the relationship between these chronic conditions and workforce productivity. Although many of the data sources identified were not primarily designed for monitoring these conditions, they do contain relevant data. The scoping study also discusses existing data deficiencies and gaps, and suggests future opportunities to fill these gaps.

Key findings

  • Of the 39 data sources considered, 21 were determined to be in scope of this report and were examined in detail.
  • Most data sources examined provide some measure of rate of musculoskeletal and/or respiratory conditions, either at a national, state or regional level.
  • In terms of ‘direct’ measures of productivity, the data sources presented provide varying levels of information. Labour force status/participation was most commonly reported, along with time off work/time lost for work, and ability to participate in work.
  • Individual impact of chronic musculoskeletal and respiratory conditions on productivity (such as pain, disability, functioning, social participation and death) is by far the most-reported priority area. Each data source included at least 1 measure of physical functioning, bodily pain and medication, as well as an individual’s disability status and level/type of restrictions.
  • Population impact was available through data sources such as the North West Adelaide Health Study and the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, which have records linked to the Medical Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule to provide information on health service utilisation.
  • Data gaps that were identified include a lack of nationally representative data sources, the inability to ascertain the direct impact of a chronic condition on productivity, and a variety of measurement techniques used across data sources, which makes comparability and data linkage difficult.

This scoping study identifies opportunities for analysis and research that draw on the strengths of existing data sets, such as:

  • baseline reporting of 1 or more existing data sources to look at the impact on productivity of chronic musculoskeletal and respiratory conditions at the national level
  • investigating the economic costs of losses in productivity due to chronic conditions
  • data linkage to bring together 2 or more existing data sources to look at topics such as the pathways through workforce participation, illness and injury, service use and health outcomes, and determining levels of absenteeism linked to chronic conditions
  • developing new surveys, or modules to existing surveys, that look specifically at the direct and indirect relationship between chronic conditions and productivity.