96% of injured workers seek their care, but international studies have suggested that some General Practitioners (GPs) can struggle with elements of the Return to Work (RTW) process. Researchers wanted to find out whether this was the case in Victoria, so they spoke directly to Victorian GPs.

Canadian and UK studies suggest that many GPs do not consider RTW in patient care plans which can leave unemployed patients 'lost' in the healthcare system, with very little prospect of rehabilitation.

This is particularly concerning given the strong scientific evidence now suggesting that 'good' work conditions can deliver countless health benefits, and that timely return to work after an injury can promote recovery.

Led by Professor Danielle Mazza, a research team from Monash University's Department of General Practice wanted to gain an understanding of the role of Victorian GPs infacilitating RTW, as well as the barriers encountered in this practice.

Their focus was shaped by new government policy in the UK, which now encourages GPs to issue "fit notes" rather than "sick notes" – achange that has seen fewer patients with back pain and/or depression being advised to refrain from work.

Where to now?

This research concluded in 2013, revealing that an increasing number of sickness certificates were issued by GPs between 2003 and 2010, and that these certificates were being issued for increasing periods of time.

Mental health claims were identified as most likely to be certified as unfit for work for the longest periods.

The research attributes these increases to:

  • Lack of a common definition regarding GPs' role in RTW
  • Heavy reliance on feedback from the patient regarding their capacity to work
  • Age and social circumstances of the patient and their family
  • Lack of communication between GPs, employers and compensation agencies
  • High administrative burden on GPs from the compensation system
  • Compensation/health systems barriers (such as delayed payments)
  • Difficulties with referrals
  • Conflicting medical opinions

These findings informed the design of WorkSafe Victoria's Health Benefits of Safe Work program, and further research into a re-designed certification process for GPs.

The following journal articles were produced during the project: