Return-to-work policies in Finnish occupational health services

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AimTo describe return-to-work services for employees on sick leave offered by Finnish occupational health services (OHS).MethodsFinnish OHS are surveyed every 3 years. Respondents are asked if they offer services to facilitate return to work (RTW), and if so, to describe them. The description was qualitatively analysed using the Atlas-ti programme to find the themes that best describe the services. We also studied characteristics of OHS predicting a return-to-work policy.ResultsOf the total sample of 969 occupational health units, 95% responded to the survey. Forty-one per cent reported offering services for facilitating RTW after sick leave. The service usually consisted of occupational physician examination of employees on sick leave for ∼6 weeks. This was followed by a joint discussion between employee, physician and supervisor, which could result in work accommodation or a work trial period. There was a substantial variation, with only 10% mentioning a joint meeting and 13% mentioning a work trial period or work accommodation. Return-to-work policies were more frequently found in the OHS that served only a few employers, provided more group activities and collaborated more with employers and research institutes.ConclusionLess than half of Finnish OHS offer return-to-work services of which the contents show wide variation that is not in line with current scientific evidence. A guideline project for return-to-work practices is needed to fill the gap. More research is needed to best define monitoring and screening practices for workers on sick leave.

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