A study led by ISCRR to review current sickness certification practices amongst GPs has been featured in the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia.
Source: Monash Media and Communications, 8 October 2013
Victorian General Practitioners are more likely to order injured workers to stay away from work rather than recommend alternative duties according to an Australian first study published in the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia today.
The study, a collaborative work undertaken by academics from the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) and Monash University's Department of General Practice and Department of Epidemiology and Preventave Medicine, examined more than 120,000 medical certificates provided to injured workers in Victoria from 2003 to 2010
ISCRR Chief Research Officer Dr Alex Collie said that more than 70% of initial medical certificates issued by GPs for injured and ill workers to stay away from work with fewer than a quarter recommending workers returning to work with modified duties. These findings come despite the known health benefits of work.
"This has significant implications given the growing body of evidence showing that safe work benefits health and that returning to work after injury or illness can promote recovery," said Dr Collie.
The Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's 2011Consensus Statement on the Health Benefits of Work has been endorsed by many hundreds of Australian and New Zealand organisations.
"These 'days lost' are also highly relevant to the growing debate around the productivity of our workforce and the viability of compensation schemes.
"We know that GPs play a front line role in returning injured workers to work as they as the first point of contact with the health care system for many injured workers and the main gatekeepers to workers compensation and disability benefits," Dr Collie said.
The study is the first study to assess sickness certification of injured and ill workers in Australia and the first study worldwide to assess certification by GPs in a population this large.
It also found that GPs were more likely to issue unfit-for-work certificates for patients with mental health conditions than other conditions.
"Our results are consistent with studies in the UK which showed that the highest proportion of unfit-for-work certificates was written for workers with mental health conditions. Only 4% of Victorian workers with mental health conditions received a certificate recommending a return to work with modified duties in this study.
"In our study workers with fractures, traumatic injuries, back pain and strains, musculoskeletal disorders and other diseases were more likely to receive certificates recommending a return to work than workers with mental health conditions," Dr Collie said.
The study is part of a broader project examining the role of GPs in the return to work process and has undertaken in-depth qualitative interviews with GPs, injured workers, employers and compensation scheme representatives.
Lead researcher, Professor Danielle Mazza of Monash University said the one-on-one interviews provided a detailed cross-section of viewpoints.
"The interviews explored the intricacies of the individuals' experience from his/her perspective and this will in turn facilitate understanding of the attitudes and practices of the various groups involved in returning an injured or ill worker to work," Professor Mazza said.
Click here to read the study in the Medical Journal of Australia.