How putting a program in place improved outcomes for employees with migraine

Managing migraine at work can be hard for employees, but it also takes a toll on the company.

That’s why Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Switzerland, launched a migraine management program that aimed to benefit both their employees and the company. The program raised awareness of migraine among all employees and provided treatment for employees with migraine.

The results were impressive. The program helped employees with migraine miss fewer days of work and helped the company get a large return on investment. The results of a study on the program were recently published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

We spoke to Dr. Rashmi Halker Singh, a neurologist and associate professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic Arizona, about what we can learn from the study and what it means for the millions of people with migraine who go to work every day.

How Migraine Impacts Work

In the U.S., businesses lose more than 113 million workdays due to migraine every year. “We definitely know that migraine in the workplace is a big problem for a number of reasons,” says Dr. Halker Singh. “Not just from an individual standpoint, but also from a productivity standpoint and an economic standpoint. We need to find better ways to manage it.”

The effect on business goes beyond missed workdays, Dr. Halker Singh says. When people with migraine go to work during a migraine attack, they might not be very productive. This is known as presenteeism. “You’re not calling in sick, but you’re just not functioning at your full capacity,” she says. “You’re there, but you’re really not getting it all done.”

Dr. Halker Singh compares it to being sick but going to work anyway. “You just kind of slug through your day because you had to be there, but you really got nothing done,” she says. “Migraine can have the same impact.” The impacts from presenteeism are harder to track because the employer sees that an employee is at work. In that way, it’s an invisible loss.

How the Migraine Management Program Worked

The Novartis program began with a company-wide migraine awareness program that educated all employees about migraine. That helped reduce the stigma of migraine at work, says Dr. Halker Singh. “By promoting this whole workplace migraine education program, they were able to help reduce stigma and make the workplace a bit more friendly towards people who have migraine,” she says.

Employees also received the Migraine Disability Assessment Test (MIDAS), which doctors use to determine how badly migraine affects a patient’s life. This test helped the company identify employees with migraine—whether or not they had a previous diagnosis. “Even though migraine has been identified as a leading health issue globally, most people with migraine don’t have the opportunity to see somebody about it or get it diagnosed or get on appropriate treatment,” says Dr. Halker Singh. “By this increased awareness campaign, more people were able to be diagnosed with migraine and actually get put on treatment.”

Nearly a quarter of employees had migraine. Researchers followed them for several months while they got treatment. This included both medication and behavioral treatments such as lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques.

What the Study Found

The study found that the program was beneficial for both people with migraine and the company. For people with migraine, their scores on the MIDAS test went down 64% after nine months, which indicates a reduced impact from migraine on their life. They also gained an average of 10.8 workdays over the course of a year that they lost due to migraine. What’s more, people most significantly impacted by migraine saw the biggest benefits.

Novartis saw a 490% return on investment for the program, which means the value the company got back (in increased productivity and reduced absenteeism) was almost five times more than what they spent on the program.

People with migraine also saw benefits from the program outside of work. “All of these workplace changes also led to them having better quality of life outside of work,” says Dr. Halker Singh. “I thought that was fantastic because we absolutely know that migraine can have an impact on interpersonal relationships and family life.”

What this Means for People with Migraine in America

While this program was in Switzerland, which has a very different healthcare system than the United States, Dr. Halker Singh is hopeful that a similar program in the U.S. would also see beneficial results. “It demonstrated that if you give people access to treatment, you can actually make a big difference,” she says.

For that reason, the American Migraine Foundation is partnering with the Global Patient Advocacy Coalition (IHS-GPAC) to make workplaces in the U.S. more accommodating for those impacted by migraine. By prioritizing patient education and wellness, these programs aim to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and lessen the impact of migraine on the individual and society.

If you would like your place of employment to be considered for a migraine in the workplace education program, please email us at [email protected] or connect us to your human resources department.

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.