Presentation M P30

M P30 (Poster Presentation):
Occupational Physicians’ Perceptions and Experiences on Early Return to Work Using Temporary Work Modifications

Presented by: Kari-Pekka Martimo


Horppu R1, Martimo KP1, Viikari-Juntura E1, Lallukka T1, MacEachen E2

  1. Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  2. Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, Canada



Daily activities (incl. appropriate work) are beneficial for recovery, especially with musculoskeletal and mental disorders. Therefore, early return to work (ERTW) after short or no absence from work has become advisable. In many countries the legislation has been amended in order to enable recommendations for work and work time arrangements (e.g. fit note, part-time sick leave). So far, mainly general practitioners’ (GPs) views on using work modifications have been studied. In Finland, occupational physicians (OP) are responsible for GP-level medical care in addition to the occupational health services. This study examines the perceptions and experiences of OPs on the use of temporary work modifications (TWMs) and ERTW.


Four OPs were interviewed individually, and 11 OPs in four focus groups using five pre-defined arguments on the issues of ERTW and TWM. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, and content analysis was applied as the qualitative method.


TWMs can be constructed as a process (assessment, negotiation, contact with workplace, and follow-up). Each step requires decisions and initiatives from the OP, and has specific facilitators and obstacles. If a model of ERTW has been established in collaboration with the workplace, less effort is needed to persuade the individual employee and supervisor. OPs can contribute to these models and encourage collaboration. One of the major obstacles for TWMs is the fear of possible worsening of symptoms, especially in mental disorders. Also some OPs felt that they lacked negotiation skills and knowledge to make the employer and the employee understand the benefits of work modifications. OPs differed in their views on the appropriate role of OP in ERTW. Presumed reluctance on the employee’s and/or the employer’s side, as well as time constraint were also reported as obstacles for initiating TWMs.


OPs appear to be well placed to support ERTW using TWMs. This, however, poses a challenge to the traditional contents of illness-related visits. More evidence is needed on how to tailor TWM approaches to specific work conditions and health needs, and how to monitor TWMs until they are completed. The training of OPs should include skills to negotiate with the employee and employer in order to enhance ERTW.

Schedule Details

Monday September 29
12:45 - 13:45 Poster Viewing
Session: Workplace