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.
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.
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?
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.