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Impact of Chronic Stress-Related Conditions on Health Expenditure

In a report by Cigna and Asia Care Group, the impact of stress-related conditions on Singapore’s health system is estimated to amount to a US$23 billion of expenditure.

The research study examined nine key markets and found that between 4 percent and 18.8 percent of healthcare spending is attributed to stress-related illness. The markets covered were Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States. The report titled – Chronic Stress: Are we reaching health system burn out? – demonstrated that stress translates as one of the largest single areas of health expenditure facing some health systems today.

In the repost, Singapore comes in the second highest health expenditure at 18 percent just below Australia at 18.8 percent. The costs are heavily felt by Singapore’s primary care, with just over 35 percent of all attendances points to stress-related conditions. For emergency department attendances, just over 19 percent are stress-related illnesses and a cost of US$16.7 million (S$22.68 million) and US$4.4 million (S$5.98 million) of cost to government and private sector respectively.

Stress-related conditions are less obvious in outpatient settings, accounting for only 12 percent of total outpatient service spend. This may be due to an effective system of referral which ensures that access to outpatient care is controlled via triaging and redirecting patients back to primary care where necessary. However, stress related illness represents a significant burden on all parts of health systems, and costs are expected to continue to rise.

Chronic stress is a widespread issue affecting people’s physical and mental health globally. It increases the risk of various mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and is commonly associated with physical illnesses, like irritable bowel syndrome or lower-back pain.

Looking at the health service usage by people suffering from stress-related conditions, the research analysed the usage by people with mental-health issues who sought medical help for an unexplained physical issues or physical symptoms that are commonly associated with stress. Previous studies have established the productivity losses from stress – from absenteeism to reduction in tax revenue. Asia Care Group and Cigna’s research is the first in-depth analysis uncovering the extensive scale and impact of stress on health systems.

The findings of this research indicate a need for system-wide action to address both the causes of stress, and to ensure systems are in place to provide timely support to those experiencing stress-related conditions. Employers, healthcare leaders, payors and hospitals can do much to help reduce the impact of chronic stress. This report makes recommendations about how to help prevent stress-related illness, ensure effective treatment and recovery for people with stress-related illness and better monitoring and evaluation.

“Challenging and breaking taboos will encourage people to seek help earlier, potentially reducing the impact and related cost of stress. Healthcare leaders, government, employers and individuals have a role to play in breaking taboos and encouraging people to talk to someone early and finding solutions.” Said April Chang, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore for Cigna International Markets. [APBN]