For years, COPD has been incorrectly characterized as a disease of old people. The truth is that of the 210 million people with COPD worldwide, more than half are between the ages of 40 and 65. As primary supporters of their families and wage earners at critical points in their careers, these individuals with COPD face unique challenges.
We want to help employers and their employees understand that while COPD cannot be cured, health outcomes and quality of life can be improved and costs can be reduced, says Lamson.
Challenges in the Workplace
According to COPD Uncovered, a report released in November from a multi-disciplinary committee of international COPD experts (including COPD Foundation president, John Walsh), the 40 to 65 year-old COPD patient group is understudied and often ignored. Yet it is this vital age group that powers the economic engines of developed nations worldwide and is among the hardest hit by COPD.
This age group is the backbone of the worlds workforce. In the United States and the United Kingdom, two-thirds of all income earned is brought home by workers between the ages of 40 and 65, according to the Uncovered report. The symptoms and debilitating effect of COPD reduce their ability to work at normal, productive levels.
Days absent from work are costly to both the employee and their employer. COPD patients average $1,800 a year in lost income because of the effects of their disease, according to a study released at the American Thoracic Societys 2010 International Conference.
It is an economic time-tomb, said Monica Fletcher, Chief Executive of Education for Health and lead author of the COPD Uncovered report. The key generation driving the economy in most countries are people aged 40-65 years and in this harsh economic climate, we need to ensure they stay active and productive. With the incidence of COPD set to rise it can only mean that personal and societal cost will also increase.
A Pilot Project
Focused on this growing problem and determined to highlight and address the challenges of the working COPD patient, the COPD Foundation has created a unique pilot project.
Funded through grants from the National Institutes of Healths National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Porter Novelli, the Foundation is tackling COPD in a critical setting: the workplace. The project, centered in the Mid-Atlantic region, involves the creation of a Regional COPD Center with a primary focus of partnering with the employer community in a COPD corporate awareness and education program.
Employers are in a unique position to minimize the burden of COPD through increased awareness and education efforts, explains Jamie Lamson, Associate Director of Public Policy for the Foundation. By learning and understanding the need for early diagnosis, improved care that follows a set of performance measures and the use of patient incentives for adhering to disease management and medication plans, employers can help lessen the impact of COPD.
Partnering with employers in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C., the Regional COPD Center will also reach out to a diverse group of health plan providers, healthcare organizations and consumers. COPD is a systemic issue and in order to address it appropriately, the public and private sectors, and healthcare providers, employers, managed care and payers, public health professionals and the patients themselves must be involved, explains Lamson.
This pilot program is unique among all other NHLBI-funded COPD awareness and education plans because of its strong focus on the employer community. The Foundations ultimate goal is make a difference in the Mid-Atlantic region and then replicate the Regional COPD Center and corporate education/employer concept in other regions across the country.