One of the key facilitators in Return to Work (RTW) is the "certificate of capacity", which is issued by GPs to recommend leave from work for injured or ill patients. Researchers reviewed this certificate, shifting its focus to measure patient capacity in a very different way.

This review follows on from preliminary research by ISCRR into the attitudes and practices of GPs towards RTW, which found that the number of issued sickness certificates was rising, as were the leave period.

This stands in direct opposition to mounting scientific evidence suggesting that 'good' work conditions can deliver countless health benefits, and that timely RTW after an injury can actually promote recovery.

To address this problem, WorkSafe and the TAC sought to redesign the certificate of capacity to shift its emphasis away from what an injured worker cannot do, and onto what they can.

These organisations were inspired by new government policy in the UK, which encourages GPs to issue "fit notes" rather than "sick notes" – a change that has seen fewer patients with back pain and/or depression being advised to refrain from work.

In 2013, Dr Bianca Brijnath led a research team from Monash University's Department of General Practice to conduct a process evaluation of the proposed new certificate, to determine its suitability and usability before a state-wide rollout in 2015.

Where to now?

The evaluation concluded with a final report. The report confirms that all stakeholders considered the new certificate to bean improvement, with compensation agents and employers particularly appreciating the shift in focus from incapacity to capacity.

The report also outlines several suggestions to further improve the certificate, particularly refining the mental health assessment and making it available electronically.

This research directly informed the implementation of a new certificate of capacity in  March 2015. Read more about how this relates to WorkSafe's policy.