Assessment of prognosis by physicians involved in work disability evaluation: A qualitative study

René J. Kox, Jan L. Hoving, Jos H. Verbeek, Maria J. E. Schouten, Carel T. J. Hulshof, Haije Wind, Monique H. W. Frings-Dresen

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Assessment of prognosis of work functioning is a challenging aspect of work disability evaluations. To gain insight into this process, we conducted a qualitative study to determine the aspects considered and the difficulties, needs and potential solutions affecting the prognosis assessment by physicians performing disability evaluations. Methods: In-depth, semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with 20 physicians performing disability evaluations for the Dutch social security institute: the national institute for employee benefit schemes. Verbatim transcripts were independently analyzed by two researchers using MAXQDA software until significant themes emerged and data saturation was achieved. Results: The responses that emerged from the interviews were clustered in three primary themes. The first theme was "Aspects considered by physicians in assessing prognosis." When making a prognosis, physicians considered the following medical issues: nature and severity of disease, the role of treatment, course of the disease, external information, and medical evidence. Patient-related issues and physician-related aspects were also distinguished. Patient-related aspects concerned the patients' work perspectives and coping or recovery behavior. Physician-related aspects concerned awareness of the physician's own role and reflection on aspects such as empathy for clients and ethical considerations. The second theme was "Difficulties physicians face in assessing prognosis," which included challenges during the assessment of diseases of a complex or less concrete nature, applying prognostic evidence to the individual, and lack of time when seeking prognostic evidence. The third theme concerned "Needs and solutions" formulated by physicians that facilitated the prognostic assessment. It consisted of continuous education, better collaboration with medical specialists and/or labor experts, and the use of prognostic tools such as checklists, apps or internet applications incorporating evidence on prognosis. Conclusions: Physicians identified several medical and patient-related aspects that elucidated the prognosis assessment. Given the variety of challenges and the need for further support found in the current study, future research should focus on the development and evaluation of training, tools, and guidelines to improve prognosis assessment by physicians.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0212276
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Cite this