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1.  Perceptions of health professionals towards the management of back pain in the context of work: a qualitative study 
Musculoskeletal complaints have a significant impact on work in terms of reduced productivity, sickness absence and long term incapacity for work. This study sought to explore GPs’ and physiotherapists’ perceptions of sickness certification in patients with musculoskeletal problems.
Eleven (11) GPs were sampled from an existing general practice survey, and six (6) physiotherapists were selected randomly using ‘snowball’ sampling techniques, through established contacts in local physiotherapy departments. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with respondents lasting up to 30 minutes. The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim, following which they were coded using N-Vivo qualitative software and analysed thematically using the constant comparative methodology, where themes were identified and contrasted between and within both groups of respondents.
Three themes were identified from the analysis: 1) Approaches to evaluating patients’ work problems 2) Perceived ability to manage ‘work and pain’, and 3) Policies and penalties in the work-place. First, physiotherapists routinely asked patients about their job and work difficulties using a structured (protocol-driven) approach, whilst GPs rarely used such structured measures and were less likely to enquire about patients’ work situation. Second, return to work assessments revealed a tension between GPs’ gatekeeper and patient advocacy roles, often resolved in favour of patients’ concerns and needs. Some physiotherapists perceived that GPs’ decisions could be influenced by patients’ demand for a sick certificate and their close relationship with patients made them vulnerable to manipulation. Third, the workplace was considered to be a specific source of strain for patients acting as a barrier to work resumption, and over which GPs and physiotherapists could exercise only limited control.
We conclude that healthcare professionals need to take account of patients’ work difficulties, their own perceived ability to offer effective guidance, and consider the ‘receptivity’ of employment contexts to patients’ work problems, in order to ensure a smooth transition back to work.
PMCID: PMC4073509  PMID: 24941952
Fit note; Sickness absence; Musculoskeletal pain; Health professionals; Primary care; Qualitative
2.  Sickness-certification practice in different clinical settings; a survey of all physicians in a country 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:752.
How physicians handle sickness-certification is essential in the sickness-absence process. Few studies have focused this task of physicians' daily work. Most previous studies have only included general practitioners. However, a previous study indicated that this is a common task also among other physicians. The aim of this study was to gain detailed knowledge about physicians' work with sickness-certification and of the problems they experience in this work.
A comprehensive questionnaire regarding sickness-certification practice was sent home to all physicians living and working in Sweden (N = 36,898; response rate: 61%). This study included physicians aged <65 years who had sickness-certification consultations at least a few times a year (n = 14,210). Descriptive statistics were calculated and odds ratios (OR) with 95 % confidence intervals (CI) were estimated for having different types of related problems, stratified on clinical settings, using physicians working in internal medicine as reference group.
Sickness-certification consultations were frequent; 67% of all physicians had such, and of those, 83% had that at least once a week. The proportion who had such consultations >5 times a week varied between clinical settings; from 3% in dermatology to 79% in orthopaedics; and was 43% in primary health care. The OR for finding sickness-certification tasks problematic was highest among the physicians working in primary health care (OR 3.3; CI 2.9-3.7) and rheumatology clinics (OR 2.6; CI 1.9-3.5). About 60% found it problematic to assess patients' work capacity and to provide a prognosis regarding the duration of work incapacity.
So far, most interventions regarding physicians' sickness-certification practices have been targeted towards primary health care and general practitioners. Our results indicate that the ORs for finding these tasks problematic were highest in primary health care. Nevertheless, physicians in some other clinical settings more often have such consultations and many of them also find these tasks problematic, e.g. in rheumatology, neurology, psychiatry, and orthopaedic clinics. Thus, the results indicate that much can be gained through focusing on physicians in other types of clinics as well, when planning interventions to improve sickness-certification practice.
PMCID: PMC3016384  PMID: 21129227
3.  Sickness certification for mental health problems: an analysis of a general practice consultation database 
Although mental illness remains the leading cause of both sickness absence and incapacity benefit in most high-income countries, little is known about how frequently patients with mental ill-health receive sickness certificates and what conditions are most commonly certified for. This study aims to use general practice consultation data to determine the rate of sickness certification for common mental health problems.
Analysis of a general practice consultation database rates of certification are presented for people consulting with a mental health problem, along with the proportion of these consultations in which a certificate was issued.
The highest rates of certification among those consulting with mental health problems occurred for depression, stress-related problems and bereavement. Almost two-thirds of the consultations for bereavement resulted in a sickness certificate being issued. At least one in three mental health consultations resulted in a sickness certificate being issued.
Consultation for mental health problems in primary care frequently results in the issuing of a sickness certificate. Further study is urgently needed to provide adequate support systems to enable patients to return to work whenever possible.
PMCID: PMC3398127  PMID: 21457602
mental health; primary care; sickness certification
4.  Patient factors associated with duration of certified sickness absence and transition to long-term incapacity. 
BACKGROUND: Despite a considerable increase in claims for long-term sickness benefits, and the impact of certifying sickness upon general practitioner (GP) workload, little is known about transition to long-term incapacity for work. AIM: To explore the relationship between patient factors and the transition from short-term to long-term work incapacity, in particular focusing on mild mental health and musculoskeletal problems. SETTING: Nine practices comprising the Mersey Primary Care R&D Consortium. DESIGN: Prospective data collection and audit of sickness certificate details. METHOD: GPs issued carbonised sickness certificates for a period of 12 months. The resulting baseline dataset included claimant diagnosis, age, sex, postcode-derived deprivation score, and sickness episode duration. Associations of patient factors with sickness duration outcomes were tested. RESULTS: Mild mental disorder accounted for nearly 40% of certified sickness. Relatively few claimants had their diagnosis changed during a sickness episode. Risk factors for longer-term incapacity included increasing age, social deprivation, mild and severe mental disorder, neoplasm, and congenital illness. For mild mental disorder claimants, age, addiction, and deprivation were risk factors for relatively longer incapacity. For musculoskeletal problems, the development of chronic incapacity was significantly related to the nature of the problem. Back pain claimants were likely to return to work sooner than those with other musculoskeletal problems. CONCLUSIONS: In addition to the presenting diagnosis, a range of factors is associated with the development of chronic incapacity for work, including age and social deprivation. GPs should consider these when negotiating sickness certification with patients.
PMCID: PMC1314799  PMID: 14965385
5.  Dealing with sickness certification – a survey of problems and strategies among general practitioners and orthopaedic surgeons 
BMC Public Health  2007;7:273.
In order to get sickness benefit a sick-listed person need a medical certificate issued by a physician; in Sweden after one week of self-certification. Physicians experience sick-listing tasks as problematic and conflicts may arise when patients regard themselves unable to work due to complaints that are hard to objectively verify for the physician. Most GPs and orthopaedic surgeons (OS) deal regularly with sick-listing issues in their daily practice. The aim of this study was to explore perceived problems and coping strategies related to tasks of sickness certification among general practitioners (GP) and orthopaedic surgeons (OS).
A cross-sectional study about sickness certification in two Swedish counties, with 673 participating GPs and 149 OSs, who answered a comprehensive questionnaire. Frequencies together with crude and adjusted (gender and working years) Odds ratios were calculated.
A majority of the GPs and OSs experienced problems in sickness certification every week. To assess the patient's work ability, to handle situations when they and the patient had different opinions about the need for sickness absence, and to issue prolongation certificates when the previous was issued by another physician were reported as problematic by a majority in both groups. Both GPs and OSs prolonged sickness certifications due to waiting times in health care or at Social Insurance Office (SIO). To handle experienced problems they used different strategies; OSs issued sickness certificates without personal appointment more often than the GPs, who on the other hand reported having contact with SIO more often than the OSs. A higher rate of GPs experienced support from management and had a common strategy for handling sickness certification at the clinic than the OSs.
Most GPs and OSs handled sickness certification weekly and reported a variety of problems in relation to this task, generally GPs to a higher extent, and they used different coping strategies to handle the problems.
PMCID: PMC2089078  PMID: 17910746
6.  Sickness certificates in Sweden: did the new guidelines improve their quality? 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:907.
Long-term sickness absence is high in many Western countries. In Sweden and many other countries, decisions on entitlement to sickness benefits and return to work measures are based on information provided by physicians in sickness certificates. The quality demands, as stressed by the Swedish sick leave guidelines from 2008, included accurate sickness certificates with assessment of functioning clearly documented. This study aims to compare quality of sickness certificates between 2007 and 2009 in Östergötland County, Sweden. Quality is defined in terms of descriptions of functioning with the use of activity and participation according to WHO’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), and in prescriptions of early rehabilitation.
During two weeks in 2007 and four weeks in 2009, all certificates had been collected upon arrival to the social insurance office in Östergötland County, Sweden. Four hundred seventy-five new certificates were included in 2007 and 501 in 2009. Prolongations of sick leave were included until the last date of sick listing. Free text on functioning was analysed deductively using the ICF framework, and placed into categories (body functions/structures, activity, participation, no description) for statistical analysis.
The majority of the certificates were issued for musculoskeletal diseases or mental disorders. Text on functioning could be classified into the components of ICF in 65% and 78% of sickness certificates issued in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Descriptions according to body components such as “sensations of pain” or “emotional functions” were given in 58% of the certificates from 2007 and in 65% from 2009. The activity component, for example “walking” or “handling stress”, was more frequent in certificates issued in 2009 compared with 2007 (33% versus 26%). Prescriptions of early rehabilitation increased from 27% in 2007 to 35% in 2009, primarily due to more counseling.
An improvement of the quality between certificates collected in 2007 and 2009 was demonstrated in Östergötland County, Sweden. The certificates from 2009 provided more information linkable to ICF and incorporated an increased use of activity limitations when describing patients’ functioning. Still, activity limitations and prescriptions of early rehabilitation were only present in one-third of the sickness certificates.
PMCID: PMC3503852  PMID: 23101724
Sickness certificates; International Classification of Functioning; Disability and Health (ICF); Rehabilitation; Sick leave; Physicians; Functioning; Work ability; Sweden
7.  Multidisciplinary Collaborative Care for Depressive Disorder in the Occupational Health Setting: design of a randomised controlled trial and cost-effectiveness study 
Major depressive disorder (MDD) has major consequences for both patients and society, particularly in terms of needlessly long sick leave and reduced functioning. Although evidence-based treatments for MDD are available, they show disappointing results when implemented in daily practice. A focus on work is also lacking in the treatment of depressive disorder as well as communication of general practitioners (GPs) and other health care professionals with occupational physicians (OPs). The OP may play a more important role in the recovery of patients with MDD. Purpose of the present study is to tackle these obstacles by applying a collaborative care model, which has proven to be effective in the USA, with a focus on return to work (RTW). From a societal perspective, the (cost)effectiveness of this collaborative care treatment, as a way of transmural care, will be evaluated in depressed patients on sick leave in the occupational health setting.
A randomised controlled trial in which the treatment of MDD in the occupational health setting will be evaluated in the Netherlands. A transmural collaborative care model, including Problem Solving Treatment (PST), a workplace intervention, antidepressant medication and manual guided self-help will be compared with care as usual (CAU). 126 Patients with MDD on sick leave between 4 and 12 weeks will be included in the study. Care in the intervention group will be provided by a multidisciplinary team of a trained OP-care manager and a consultant psychiatrist. The treatment is separated from the sickness certification. Data will be collected by means of questionnaires at baseline and at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months after baseline. Primary outcome measure is reduction of depressive symptoms, secondary outcome measure is time to RTW, tertiary outcome measure is the cost effectiveness.
The high burden of MDD and the high level of sickness absence among people with MDD contribute to the relevance of this study. The intervention is an innovative approach, with trained OPs in a new role as care managers in the treatment of MDD. If this intervention proves to be cost-effective, implementation will be very relevant for individual patients as well as for society.
Trial registration
PMCID: PMC2390533  PMID: 18457589
8.  Identification of UK sickness certification rates, standardised for age and sex 
There is growing interest in tackling the perceived ‘sick note’ culture in the UK.
The aim of this paper was to report the rates of sickness certification in a UK population, using sick certification rates as a precursor to addressing fitness for work.
Electronic records from all 14 practices included in the Keele GP Research Network were reviewed; all sickness certification records from 2005 were retrieved and corresponding consultation records were examined. Participants were 148 176 patients registered during 2005, including 6398 patients who received at least one sickness certificate during the same year.
The rate of sickness certification was 101.67 certificates per 1000 person years (95% confidence interval [CI] = 100.13 to 103.21). This rate was significantly higher in women, at 109.76 certificates per 1000 person years (95% CI = 107.550 to 112.02), compared to men who had a rate of 93.68 certificates per 1000 person years (95% CI = 91.59 to 95.78; P<0.001). The rate of sickness certification was greatest for mental health conditions, followed closely by musculoskeletal conditions.
On average, one in 10 patients will receive a sickness certificate each year, with the highest rates occurring around 50 years of age, in women. Mental health and musculoskeletal conditions were associated with the highest rates of certification. These results provide important information to underpin the national ‘Fit for Work’ scheme, by providing targets for intervention and a benchmark against which the impact of public health initiatives to reduce certified sickness absence due to health conditions can be evaluated and monitored.
PMCID: PMC2702016  PMID: 19566999
epidemiology; general practice; primary care; sickness certification
9.  What physicians want to learn about sickness certification: analyses of questionnaire data from 4019 physicians 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:61.
Sickness absence is a problem in many Western countries. Physicians have an essential role in sickness certification of patients, which is often recommended in health care but may have side effects. Despite the potentially harming impact of sickness absence, physicians have very limited training in insurance medicine, and there is little research on sickness certification practices. Our aim was to ascertain what knowledge and skills physicians in different clinical settings feel they need in order to improve their competence in sickness certification.
The data for analysis were collected in 2004 in Stockholm and Östergötland Counties, Sweden, by use of a comprehensive questionnaire about sickness certification issues, which was sent to 7,665 physicians aged ≤ 64 years. The response rate was 71% (n = 5455). Analyses of association and factor analysis were applied to the various aspects of competence to establish a skills index and a knowledge index, which were used to compare the results for physicians in different clinical settings.
Most physicians stated they needed more knowledge and skills in handling sickness certification, e.g. regarding how to assess work capacity (44%) and optimal length and degree of sickness absence (50%), and information about aspects of the social insurance system (43-63%). Few (20%) reported needing to know more about issuing sickness certificates. The index scores varied substantially between different clinical settings, and this disparity remained after adjustment for sex, years in practice, workplace policy, and support from management. Scores on the skills index were significantly higher for physicians in primary care than for those working in other areas.
A majority of physicians in most types of clinics/practices, not only primary care, indicated the need for more knowledge and skills in handling sickness certification cases. Increased knowledge and skills are needed in order to protect both the health and equity of patients. However, few physicians stated that they needed more skills in filling out sickness certificates, which contradicts previous findings about such documents being of poor quality and suggests that factors other than mere knowledge and skills are involved.
PMCID: PMC2829004  PMID: 20144230
10.  Frequency and severity of problems that general practitioners experience regarding sickness certification 
Tasks involved in sickness certification constitute potential problems for physicians. The objective in this study was to obtain more detailed knowledge about the problems that general practitioners (GPs) experience in sickness certification cases, specifically regarding reasons for issuing unnecessarily long sick-leave periods.
A cross-sectional national questionnaire study. Setting. Primary health care in Sweden.
The 2516 general practitioners (GPs), below 65 years of age, who had consultations involving sickness certification every week. This makes it the by far largest such study worldwide. The response rate among GPs was 59.9%.
Once a week, half of the GPs (54.5%) found it problematic to handle sickness certification, and one-fourth (25.9%) had a patient who wanted to be sickness absent for some reason other than medical work incapacity. Issues rated as problematic by many GPs concerned assessing work capacity, prognosticating the duration of incapacity, handling situations in which the GP and the patient had different opinions on the need for sick leave, and managing the two roles as physician for the patient and medical expert in writing certificates for other authorities. Main reasons for certifying unnecessarily long sick-leave periods were long waiting times in health care and in other organizations, and younger and male GPs more often reported doing this to avoid conflicts with the patient.
A majority of the GPs found sickness certification problematic. Most problems were related to professional competence in insurance medicine. Better possibilities to develop, maintain, and practise such professionalism are warranted.
PMCID: PMC3308465  PMID: 22126222
GP; physicians; primary health care; sickness certification; sick leave
11.  Sickness certification system in the United Kingdom: qualitative study of views of general practitioners in Scotland 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2004;328(7431):88.
Objectives To explore how general practitioners operate the sickness certification system, their views on the system, and suggestions for change.
Design Qualitative focus group study consisting of 11 focus groups with 67 participants.
Setting General practitioners in practices in Glasgow, Tayside, and Highland regions, Scotland.
Sample Purposive sample of general practitioners, with further theoretical sampling of key informant general practitioners to examine emerging themes.
Results General practitioners believed that the sickness certification system failed to address complex, chronic, or doubtful cases. They seemed to develop various operational strategies for its implementation. There appeared to be important deliberate misuse of the system by general practitioners, possibly related to conflicts about roles and incongruities in the system. The doctor-patient relationship was perceived to conflict with the current role of general practitioners in sickness certification. When making decisions about certification, the general practitioners considered a wide variety of factors. They experienced contradictory demands from other system stakeholders and felt blamed for failing to make impossible reconciliations. They clearly identified the difficulties of operating the system when there was no continuity of patient care. Many wished either to relinquish their gatekeeper role or to continue only with major changes.
Conclusions Policy makers need to recognise and accommodate the range and complexity of factors that influence the behaviour of general practitioners operating as gatekeepers to the sickness certification system, before making changes. Such changes are otherwise unlikely to result in improvement. Models other than the primary care gatekeeper model should be considered.
PMCID: PMC314050  PMID: 14691065
12.  Health care management of sickness certification tasks: results from two surveys to physicians 
BMC Research Notes  2013;6:207.
Health care in general and physicians in particular, play an important role in patients’ sickness certification processes. However, a lack of management within health care regarding how sickness certification is carried out has been identified in Sweden. A variety of interventions to increase the quality of sickness certification were introduced by the government and County Councils. Some of these measures were specifically aimed at strengthening health care management of sickness certification; e.g. policy making and management support. The aim was to describe to what extent physicians in different medical specialties had access to a joint policy regarding sickness certification in their clinical settings and experienced management support in carrying out sickness certification.
A descriptive study, based on data from two cross-sectional questionnaires sent to all physicians in the Stockholm County regarding their sickness certification practice. Criteria for inclusion in this study were working in a clinical setting, being a board-certified specialist, <65 years of age, and having sickness certification consultations at least a few times a year. These criteria were met by 2497 physicians in 2004 and 2204 physicians in 2008. Proportions were calculated regarding access to policy and management support, stratified according to medical specialty.
The proportions of physicians working in clinical settings with a well-established policy regarding sickness certification were generally low both in 2004 and 2008, but varied greatly between different types of medical specialties (from 6.1% to 46.9%). Also, reports of access to substantial management support regarding sickness certification varied greatly between medical specialties (from 10.5% to 48.8%). More than one third of the physicians reported having no such management support.
Most physicians did not work in a clinical setting with a well-established policy on sickness certification tasks, nor did they experience substantial support from their manager. The results indicate a need of strengthening health care management of sickness certification tasks in order to better support physicians in these tasks.
PMCID: PMC3671141  PMID: 23701711
Health care management; Sickness certification practice; Sick leave; Physician
13.  A Cluster-Randomised Trial Evaluating an Intervention for Patients with Stress-Related Mental Disorders and Sick Leave in Primary Care 
PLoS Clinical Trials  2007;2(6):e26.
Mental health problems often affect functioning to such an extent that they result in sick leave. The worldwide reported prevalence of mental health problems in the working population is 10%–18%. In developed countries, mental health problems are one of the main grounds for receiving disability benefits. In up to 90% of cases the cause is stress-related, and health-care utilisation is mainly restricted to primary care. The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of our Minimal Intervention for Stress-related mental disorders with Sick leave (MISS) in primary care, which is intended to reduce sick leave and prevent chronicity of symptoms.
Cluster-randomised controlled educational trial.
Primary health-care practices in the Amsterdam area, The Netherlands.
A total of 433 patients (MISS n = 227, usual care [UC] n = 206) with sick leave and self-reported elevated level of distress.
Forty-six primary care physicians were randomised to either receive training in the MISS or to provide UC. Eligible patients were screened by mail.
Outcome Measures:
The primary outcome measure was duration of sick leave until lasting full return to work. The secondary outcomes were levels of self-reported distress, depression, anxiety, and somatisation.
No superior effect of the MISS was found on duration of sick leave (hazard ratio 1.06, 95% confidence interval 0.87–1.29) nor on severity of self-reported symptoms.
We found no evidence that the MISS is more effective than UC in our study sample of distressed patients. Continuing research should focus on the potential beneficial effects of the MISS; we need to investigate which elements of the intervention might be useful and which elements should be adjusted to make the MISS effective.
Editorial Commentary
Background: People who take sick leave from work as a result of mental health problems very often report that the cause is stress-related. Although stress-related sick leave imposes a significant burden on individuals and economies, few evidence-based therapies exist to prevent sick leave in people who are experiencing stress-related mental health problems. The researchers carrying out this study wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention for stress-related mental health disorders amongst people who had been on sick leave for less than three months. The intervention involved short training sessions for primary health-care practitioners, during which the practitioners were taught how to diagnose stress-related problems; how to provide information to patients and encourage their recovery and active return to work; and how to give advice and monitor patients' recovery. The researchers carried out a cluster-randomized trial evaluating this training program, in which 46 primary care practitioners were assigned by chance to receive either the training program or to practice usual care. Over the course of the trial, 433 patients with elevated levels of distress and sick leave were included in the study, 227 of whom were treated by practitioners receiving the training program and 206 of whom received usual care. These patients were followed up for 12 months and the primary outcome studied in the trial was the length of sick leave taken until full return to work. Secondary outcome measures included patients' reports of distress, depression, and other symptoms as recorded using specific questionnaires.
What the trial shows: In the trial, data on the primary outcome measure was available for 87% of the patients treated by practitioners receiving the training intervention and 84% of the patients receiving usual care. When these outcomes were analyzed, there was no evidence of a benefit of the training program on amount of sick leave taken. Over the course of the study, the severity of patients' self-reported symptoms fell in both groups, but there was no significant difference in symptom severity between the two groups of patients. A subgroup analysis suggested that more practitioners in the intervention group recognized patients as having stress-related mental health problems. Among the group of patients who were diagnosed as having stress-related mental health problems, those who were treated by practitioners in the intervention group seemed to return to work slightly more quickly than those in the usual care group. However, it is not easy to interpret the findings of this secondary analysis.
Strengths and limitations: Strengths of this study include the procedures for cluster randomization, in which primary care practitioners were randomized, rather than patients. This process ensures that only patients assigned to the intervention arm receive the benefits of the intervention, and avoids “contamination” between intervention and control groups. A further strength includes the blinding of researchers who were collecting data to the intervention that each practitioner had received. The findings of the study, however, are difficult to interpret. No effect of the training intervention was found on the study's primary outcome measure; it is possible that the training intervention does indeed have some benefit, but the benefit may not have been found in this particular trial because of the inclusion of patients with a very wide range of problems; in addition the practitioners may have not had the time or ability to apply what they learnt in the training program.
Contribution to the evidence: Very little evidence exists regarding the effects of training interventions for improving care of patients with stress-related mental health problems. The findings of this trial support those of another study carried out in a primary care setting, which found that training interventions do not seem to reduce length of sick leave. However, another study carried out in an occupational health-care setting, in which patients included in the trial had been recognised as having stress-related mental disorders, did find some benefit of an intervention program.
PMCID: PMC1885369  PMID: 17549228
14.  Isolated specialist or system integrated physician – different views on sickness certification among orthopaedic surgeons: an interview study 
Sickness certification is a frequent and sometimes problematic task for orthopaedic surgeons.
Our aim was to explore how orthopaedic surgeons view their sick-listing commission and sick-listing practice.
Semi-structured interviews with seventeen orthopaedic surgeons from five orthopaedic clinics in four Swedish counties. The focus was on the experiences of these physicians in relation to handling of sickness certification. Phenomenographic analysis was performed to reveal differences in existing views.
The orthopaedic surgeons' views on sick-listing seemed mainly to be a consequence of how they perceived their role in the healthcare system. Three categories were found: The "isolated specialists", whose work and responsibilities were confined to the orthopaedic clinic, and did not really include sickness certification; the "orthopaedic advisers", who saw themselves mainly as advice-givers in the general health care system and perceived sickness certification as part of their job; the "system-integrated physicians", who perceived the orthopaedic clinic as one part of the healthcare system and whose ultimate goal was to get the patient well functioning in her life again with regained work ability, seeing sick-listing as one of the instruments to achieve this. Some informants described difficulties in handling conflicting opinions with patients in relation to the need for sick-leave.
Orthopaedic surgeons certify a large proportion of total sickness benefits. Some orthopaedic surgeons may certify sickness benefits sub-optimally for patients and society due to a narrow view of their role in the health care system or due to poor skills in handling discordant opinions with the patient. This problem can be addressed at the level of the individual physician and at the system level.
PMCID: PMC2651137  PMID: 19105821
15.  Reasons for and factors associated with issuing sickness certificates for longer periods than necessary: results from a nationwide survey of physicians 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:478.
Physicians’ work with sickness certifications is an understudied field. Physicians’ experience of sickness certifying for longer periods than necessary has been previous reported. However, the extent and frequency of such sickness certification is largely unknown. The aims of this study were: a) to explore the frequency of sickness certifying for longer periods than necessary among physicians working in different clinical settings; b) to examine main reasons for issuing sickness certificates for longer periods than necessary; and c) to examine factors associated with unnecessary issued sickness certificates.
In 2008, all physicians living and working in Sweden (a total of 36,898) were sent an invitation to participate in a questionnaire study concerning their sick-listing practices. A total of 22,349 (60.6%) returned the questionnaire. In the current study, physicians reporting handling sickness certification consultations at least weekly were included in the analyses, a total of 12,348.
The proportion of physicians reporting issuing sickness certificates for longer periods than actually necessary varied greatly between different types of clinics, with the highest frequency among those working at: occupational medicine, orthopedic, primary health care, and psychiatry clinics; and lowest among those working in: eye, dermatology, ear/nose/throat, oncology, surgery, and infection clinics. Logistic analyses showed that sickness certifying for longer periods than necessary due to limitations in the health care system was particularly common among physicians working at occupational medicine, orthopedic, and primary health care clinics. Sickness certifying for longer periods than necessary due to patient-related factors was much more common among physicians working at psychiatric clinics. In addition to differences between clinics, frequency of sickness certificates issued for longer periods than necessary varied by age, physicians’ experiences of different situations, and perceived problems.
This study showed that physicians issued sickness certificates for longer periods than actually necessary quite frequently at some types of clinics. Differences between clinics were to a large extent associated with frequency of problems, lack of time, delicate interactions with patients, and need for more competence.
PMCID: PMC3691717  PMID: 23679866
Sick leave; Sickness certification; Insurance medicine; Physician
16.  Psychiatrists′ work with sickness certification: frequency, experiences and severity of the certification tasks in a national survey in Sweden 
Many psychiatrists are involved in sickness certification of their patients; however, there is very limited knowledge about this aspect of their work. The objective of this study was to explore frequencies of problematic issues in the sickness certification tasks and experiences of severity regarding these problematic issues among psychiatrists.
A cross-sectional nationwide questionnaire study to all physicians in Sweden. The 579 specialists in psychiatry who answered the questionnaire, were under 65 years of age, worked mainly in psychiatric care, and had consultations involving sickness certification at least once a week were included.
The frequency of problematic sickness certification consultations a few times per year or more often was considered by 87.3% of the psychiatrists; 11.7% handle such cases at least once a week. A majority (60.9%) reported ‘not having enough time with the patient’ at least once a week. The psychiatrists had access to several categories of professionals in their daily work. More than one third certified unnecessarily long sick-leave periods at least once a month due to waiting times for Social Insurance Office investigations or for treatments or investigations within health care.
The majority found it problematic to assess the level and duration of work incapacity, but also other types of problems like unnecessarily long sick-leave periods due to different types of waiting times. The findings have implications for different kinds of organisational and managerial support and training in sickness certification issues, like guidance to assess the level and duration of work incapacity.
PMCID: PMC3480832  PMID: 23075202
Sickness certification; Psychiatry; Sick leave; Physician
17.  General practitioners' experiences with sickness certification: a comparison of survey data from Sweden and Norway 
BMC Family Practice  2012;13:10.
In most countries with sickness insurance systems, general practitioners (GPs) play a key role in the sickness-absence process. Previous studies have indicated that GPs experience several tasks and situations related to sickness certification consultations as problematic. The fact that the organization of primary health care and social insurance systems differ between countries may influence both GPs' experiences and certification. The aim of the present study was to gain more knowledge of GPs' experiences of sickness certification, by comparing data from Sweden and Norway, regarding frequencies and aspects of sickness certification found to be problematic.
Statistical analyses of cross-sectional survey data of sickness certification by GPs in Sweden and Norway. In Sweden, all GPs were included, with 3949 (60.6%) responding. In Norway, a representative sample of GPs was included, with 221 (66.5%) responding.
Most GPs reported having consultations involving sickness certification at least once a week; 95% of the GPs in Sweden and 99% of the GPs in Norway. A majority found such tasks problematic; 60% of the GPs in Sweden and 53% in Norway. In a logistic regression, having a higher frequency of sickness certification consultations was associated with a higher risk of experiencing them as problematic, in both countries. A higher rate of GPs in Sweden than in Norway reported meeting patients wanting a sickness certification without a medical reason. GPs in Sweden found it more problematic to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of sick leave with patients and to issue a prolongation of a sick-leave period initiated by another physician. GPs in Norway more often worried that patients would go to another physician if they did not issue a certificate, and a higher proportion of Norwegian GPs found it problematic to handle situations where they and their patient disagreed on the need for sick leave.
The study confirms that many GPs experience sickness absence consultations as problematic. However, there were differences between the two countries in GPs' experiences, which may be linked to differences in social security regulations and the organization of GP services. Possible causes and consequences of national differences should be addressed in future studies.
PMCID: PMC3320536  PMID: 22375615
18.  How primary health care physicians make sick listing decisions: The impact of medical factors and functioning 
The decision to issue sickness certification in Sweden for a patient should be based on the physician's assessment of the reduction of the patient's work capacity due to a disease or injury, not on psychosocial factors, in spite of the fact that they are known as risk factors for sickness absence. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of medical factors and functioning on sick listing probability.
Four hundred and seventy-four patient-physician consultations, where sick listing could be an option, in general practice in Örebro county, central Sweden, were documented using physician and patient questionnaires. Information sought was the physicians' assessments of causes and consequences of the patients' complaints, potential to recover, diagnoses and prescriptions on sick leave, and the patients' view of their family and work situation and functioning as well as data on the patients' former and present health situation. The outcome measure was whether or not a sickness certificate was issued. Multivariate analyses were performed.
Complaints entirely or mainly somatic as assessed by the physician decreased the risk of sick listing, and complaints resulting in severe limitation of occupational work capacity, as assessed by the patient as well as the physician, increased the risk of sick listing, as did appointments for locomotor complaints. The results for patients with infectious diseases or musculoskeletal diseases were partly similar to those for all diseases.
The strongest predictors for sickness certification were patient's and GP's assessment of reduced work capacity, with a striking concordance between physician and patient on this assessment. When patient's complaints were judged to be non-somatic the risk of sickness certification was enhanced.
PMCID: PMC2266928  PMID: 18208594
19.  Sickness certification as a complex professional and collaborative activity - a qualitative study 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:702.
Physicians have an important but problematic task to issue sickness certifications. A manifold of studies have identified a wide spectrum of medical and insurance-related problems in sickness certification. Despite educational efforts aiming to improve physicians’ knowledge of social insurance medicine there are no signs of reduction of these problems. We hypothesised that the quality deficits is not only due to lack of knowledge among issuing physicians. The aim of the study was to explore physicians’ challenges when handling sickness certification in relation to their professional roles as physicians and to their interaction with different stakeholders.
One hundred seventy-seven physicians in Stockholm County, Sweden, participated in a sick-listing audit program. Participants identified challenges in handling sick-leave issues and formulated action plans for improvement. Challenges and responsible stakeholders were identified in the action plans. To deepen the understanding facilitators of the program were interviewed. A qualitative content analysis was performed exploring challenge categories and categories of stakeholders with responsibility to initiate actions to improve the quality of the sick-listing process. The challenge categories were then related by their content to professional competence roles in accord with the Canadian Medical Education Directions for Specialists (CanMEDS) framework and to the stakeholder categories.
Seven categories of challenges were identified. Practitioner patient interaction, Work capacity assessment, Interaction with the Social Insurance Administration, The patient’s workplace and the labour market, Sick-listing practice, Collaboration and resource allocation within the Health Care System, Leadership and routines at the Health Care Unit. The challenges were related to all seven CanMEDS roles. Five categories of stakeholders were identified and several stakeholders were involved in each challenge category.
Physicians performing sickness certification tasks experience a complex variety of challenges. From physician perspective actions to handle these need to be initiated in interaction with both medical and non-medical stakeholders. The relation between the challenges and a well-established professional competence framework revealed a complex pattern. Thus, from a public health perspective, educational activities aimed to improve the sick-listing process should address all physician competences including identification and interaction with stakeholders, and not just knowledge of social insurance medicine.
PMCID: PMC3499228  PMID: 22928773
20.  Quality of sickness certification in primary health care: a retrospective database study 
BMC Family Practice  2013;14:48.
In the period 2004–2009, national and regional initiatives were developed in Sweden to improve the quality of sickness certificates. Parameters for assessing the quality of sickness certificates in primary health care have been proposed. The aim of this study was to measure the quality of sickness certification in primary health care by means of assessing sickness certificates issued between 2004 and 2009 in Stockholm.
This was a retrospective study using data retrieved from sickness certificates contained in the electronic patient records of 21 primary health care centres in Stockholm County covering six consecutive years. A total number of 236 441 certificates were used in the current study. Seven quality parameters were chosen as outcome measures. Descriptive statistics and regression models with time, sex and age group as explanatory variables were used.
During the study period, the quality of the sickness certification practice improved as the number of days on first certification decreased and the proportion of duly completely and acceptable certificates increased. Assessment of need for vocational rehabilitation and giving a prognosis for return to work were not significantly improved during the same period. Time was the most influential variable.
The quality of sickness certification practice improved for most of the parameters, although additional efforts to improve the quality of sickness certificates are needed. Measures, such as reminders, compulsory certificate fields and structured guidance, could be useful tools to achieve this objective.
PMCID: PMC3637144  PMID: 23586694
General practitioners; Sick leave; Sickness certificates; Quality indicators; Health care
21.  Work-related sickness absence negotiations: GPs' qualitative perspectives 
GPs can find their role as issuers of sickness certification problematic, particularly in trying to maintain a balance between certifying absence and preserving the doctor–patient relationship. Little research has been published on consultations in which sickness absence has been certified.
To explore negotiations between GPs and patients in sickness absence certification, including how occupational health training may affect this process.
A qualitative study was undertaken with GPs trained in occupational health who also participate in a UKwide surveillance scheme studying work-related ill-health. Telephone interviews were conducted with 31 GPs who had reported cases with associated sickness absence.
Work-related sickness absence and patients' requests for a ‘sick note’ vary by diagnosis. Some GPs felt their role as patient advocate was of utmost importance, and issue certificates on a patient’s request, whereas others offer more resistance through a greater understanding of issues surrounding work and health aquired through occupational health training. GPs felt that their training helped them to challenge beliefs about absence from work being beneficial to patients experiencing ill-health; they felt better equipped to consider patients’ fitness for work, and issued fewer certificates as a result of this.
Complex issues surround GPs' role in the sickness-certification process, particularly when determining the patient's ability to work while maintaining a healthy doctor–patient relationship. This study demonstrates the potential impact of occupational health training for GPs, particularly in light of changes to the medical statement introduced in 2010.
PMCID: PMC2944931  PMID: 20883621
general practice; occupational health; qualitative research; sickness absence; work-related ill-health
22.  Physicians who experience sickness certification as a work environmental problem: where do they work and what specific problems do they have? A nationwide survey in Sweden 
BMJ Open  2012;2(2):e000704.
In a recent study, 11% of the Swedish physicians below 65 years dealing with sickness certification tasks (SCT) experienced SCT to a great extent as a work environment problem (WEP). This study aimed at exploring which SCT problems those physicians experienced and if these problems varied between general practitioners (GPs), psychiatrists, orthopaedists and physicians working at other types of clinics.
A cross-sectional nationwide questionnaire study.
All physicians working in Sweden in 2008.
The 1554 physicians <65 years old, working in a clinical setting, having SCT and stating SCT to a great extent being a WEP.
Outcome measures
Frequency of possibly problematic situations or lack of time, reasons for sickness certifying unnecessarily long, experience of difficulties in contacts with sickness insurance offices, and severity of experienced problems.
In all, 79% of this group of physicians experienced SCT as problematic at least once weekly, significantly higher proportion among GPs (p<0.001) and psychiatrists (p=0.005). A majority (at most 68.3%) experienced lack of time daily, when handling SCT, the proportion being significantly higher among orthopaedists (p=0.003, 0.007 and 0.011 on three respective items about lack of time). Among psychiatrists, a significantly higher proportion (p<0.001) stated wanting a patient coordinator. Also, GPs agreed to a higher extent (p<0.001) to finding 14 different SCT tasks as ‘very problematic’.
The main problem among physicians who experience SCT to a great extent as a WEP was lack of time related to SCT. The proportion of physicians experiencing problems varied in many aspects significantly between the different work clinics; however, GPs were among the highest in most types of problems. The results indicate that measures for improving physicians' sickness certification practices should be focused on organisational as well as professional level and that the needs in these aspects differ between specialties.
Article summary
Article focus
A study of the minority of physicians who state sickness certification tasks to a great extent being a work environment problem.
What problems do these physicians experience in relation to sickness certification?
Do the experienced problems vary with type of work clinic/specialty?
Key messages
A vast majority of these physicians experienced daily lack of time when handling sickness certification tasks.
About half of these physicians found it very problematic to assess level of work incapacity, to manage the two roles as the patient's physician and as a medical expert, and to provide the Social Insurance Office with more extensive sickness certificates.
Measures for improving physicians' sickness certification practices should be focused on organisational as well as professional levels and might need to differ between specialties.
Strengths and limitations of this study
The study was based on a questionnaire sent to all 37 000 physicians in a whole country, and the response rate (61%) could be regarded as relatively high.
Only one question about work environment was included.
PMCID: PMC3293140  PMID: 22382120
23.  Exploration of GPs' views and use of the fit note: a qualitative study in primary care 
The British Journal of General Practice  2012;62(598):e363-e370.
Sickness certification constitutes daily clinical practice for GPs. In April 2010, the UK sickness certification system changed to reflect the evidence that work is generally good for health and a new Statement of Fitness for Work — the ‘fit note’ — was introduced. Sickness certification is a contentious topic among GPs and the proposed fit note generated mixed reviews.
To explore GPs' views and use of the fit note during its first year of operation.
Design and setting
Qualitative interview study of GPs based in different geographical locations across the UK.
GPs (n = 15), who were recruited from a national sample, participated in semi-structured telephone interviews which were subject to constant comparative analysis.
Overall, the fit note was well received. GPs recognised that work is generally good for health and felt the fit note facilitated using an earlier return to work as a negotiation tool. GPs perceive employers as the major obstacle to early return to work. There were reports of scepticism towards the system that negatively impacted on some GPs' operation of sickness certification. Feedback over the fit note's impact on employer behaviour and the return of a mechanism that enables GPs to request early independent assessments would be welcomed.
A revised approach is needed to address the scepticism towards the sickness certification system that persists among some GPs. New strategies need to be designed to engage employers in facilitating an early return to work and to enable the objectives of the medical statement reforms to be achieved.
PMCID: PMC3338058  PMID: 22546596
general practice; health policy; qualitative research; sick leave; sickness certification
24.  Frequency and nature of problems associated with sickness certification tasks: A cross-sectional questionnaire study of 5455 physicians 
To study the frequency and nature of problems associated with physicians’ sickness certification practices.
Cross-sectional questionnaire study.
Stockholm and Östergötland Counties in Sweden.
Physicians aged ≤64 years, n =7665, response rate 71% (n =5455).
Main outcome measures
The frequency of consultations involving sickness certification, the frequency and nature of problems related to sickness certification.
A total of 74% (n =4019) of the respondents had consultations including sickness certification at least a few times a year. About half of these physicians had sickness certification cases at least six times a week, and 1 out of 10 (9.4%) had this more than 20 times a week. The items that the highest percentage of physicians rated as very or fairly problematic included: handling conflicts with patients over certification, assessing work ability, estimating optimal length and degree of absence, and managing prolongation of sick leave initially certified by another physician. There were large differences in frequency and nature of problems between different types of clinics/practices. General practitioners had the highest frequency of problems concerning sickness certification while the lowest was found among specialists in internal medicine and surgery.
Sickness certification should be recognized as an important task also for physicians other than general practitioners. The physicians experienced problems with numerous tasks related to sickness certification and these varied considerably between types of clinics. The high rate of problems experienced may have consequences for the physicians’ work situation, for patients, and for society.
PMCID: PMC3379778  PMID: 17846937
Family practice; healthcare; insurance medicine; physicians; sickness certification; sick leave
25.  NICE guidance on long-term sickness and incapacity 
The British Journal of General Practice  2011;61(584):e118-e124.
Long-term sickness absence and incapacity benefits (disability pension) rates have increased across industrialised countries. Effective measures are needed to support return to work. The recommendations of this guidance were informed by the most appropriate available evidence of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Public health evidence was provided by research using a variety of study designs that attempted to determine the outcome of a particular intervention by evaluating status before and after the intervention had been effected, and was not limited to randomised control trials. Where the evidence base was depleted or underdeveloped, expert witnesses were called to give their opinion on the best available evidence and emerging interventions. The process enabled challenge and contestability from stakeholder groups at different points as the guidance was developed. Forty-five heterogeneous studies were included in the review of interventions to reduce long-term sickness absence and transitions from short-term to long-term absence (mainly covering the former and also mainly examining musculoskeletal conditions). The analysis of evidence was restricted to descriptive synthesis. Three general themes emerged from an analysis of the studies that were more likely to report positive results: early interventions; multidisciplinary approaches; and interventions with a workplace component. Two further reviews were undertaken, one on interventions to reduce the re-occurrence of sickness absence, which identified seven studies on lower back pain, and concluded that early intervention and direct workplace input are important factors. The final evidence review focused on six studies of interventions for those in receipt of incapacity benefit. The evidence was that work-focused interviews coupled with access to tailored support are effective and cost-effective interventions. Practitioners should consider the impact of interventions and management options on work ability for patients of working age. Work ability should be considered a key outcome for future intervention studies.
PMCID: PMC3047344  PMID: 21375894
evidence-based medicine; guideline; sick leave; sick leave, cost; work capacity evaluation

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