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Sick workers 'presenteeism' costs $34 billion a year -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You might think you're being brave, and soldiering on but a new report indicates that sick workers dragging themselves into the office costs the Australian economy more than $34 billion a year.

Lucy Carter reports.

LUCY CARTER: It's a wet morning in Sydney at the start of cold and flu season but that hasn't stopped many workers heading to the office even though they're feeling under the weather.

WORKER 1: Well I'm a contractor so if I don't go to work, I don't get paid.

WORKER 2: Because I guess I just feel like I've just got so much to do so I've just got to get on with it, and everyone else does it.

WORKER 3: Fear of reprisals, yeah. We have a leave policy which dictates that we have to get doctors' certificates, and if you can't get into the doctor then you come to work.

LUCY CARTER: A new report suggests this attitude is costing the national economy more than $34 billion a year.

Pathology Awareness Australia commissioned the report from the Centre for International Economics.

PAA's chair is John Crothers.

JOHN CROTHERS: Presenteeism is people fronting up to work when maybe they shouldn't and that's all about not understanding what's going on with their healthcare at that point in time.

Yes I've got a deadline to hit, but do you want to do that in the understanding that you are in a position, your body's in a position to be able to do that effectively?

LUCY CARTER: Mr Crothers says while workers may think they're doing the right thing, they risk infecting colleagues and lowering overall workplace productivity.

He says they should seek expert medical advice.

JOHN CROTHERS: If it gets to a point where, gee this is a bit more than a just a common cough and cold, then certainly seeing your general practitioner, your clinician is critical.

And then the clinician will then make a decision, can I do this with my clinical assessment or, more often than not, as in one in two, they will actually require pathology to help them with that diagnosis.

LUCY CARTER: The report has also examined the economic benefits of pathology to Australia.

It's found that improvements in emergency room diagnosis of chest pain has the potential to save the economy $167 million a year.

JOHN CROTHERS: Pathology is integral in the diagnosis of heart attacks, or acute coronary syndrome.
More often than not you are requiring a pathology test to do that, not underestimating the role of the ED physician who is mainly involved in that diagnosis, and the ECG that people would be aware of.

But it's also this test called the Troponin, which is critical. And now with the improved sensitivity, the innovation in that area is taking the time from anywhere from eight hours down to as low as two hours with these new high sensitive tests.

That is having a critical impact on ED wait time, the ability for people to go home early, the ability for people to be admitted early. And that's where that $167 million has come from.

LUCY CARTER: The report has also found that improved testing of diabetes patients in Australia could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year in preventable treatment costs.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Lucy Carter reporting.