Inter-doctor variations in the assessment of functional incapacities by insurance physicians

Antonius J. M. Schellart, Henny Mulders, Romy Steenbeek, Johannes R. Anema, Herman Kroneman, Jan Besseling

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21 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to determine the--largely unexplored--extent of systematic variation in the work disability assessment by Dutch insurance physicians (IPs) of employees on long-term sick leave, and to ascertain whether this variation was associated with the individual characteristics and opinions of IPs. In March 2008 we conducted a survey among IPs on the basis of the 'Attitude--Social norm--self-Efficacy' (ASE) model. We used the ensuing data to form latent variables for the ASE constructs. We then linked the background variables and the measured constructs for IPs (n = 199) working at regional offices (n = 27) to the work disability assessments of clients (n = 83,755) and their characteristics. These assessments were carried out between July 2003 and April 2008. We performed multilevel regression analysis on three important assessment outcomes: No Sustainable Capacity or Restrictions for Working Hours (binominal), Functional Incapacity Score (scale 0-6) and Maximum Work Disability Class (binominal). We calculated Intra Class Correlations (ICCs) at IP level and office level and explained variances (R2) for the three outcomes. A higher ICC reflects stronger systematic variation. The ICCs at IP level were approximately 6% for No Sustainable Capacity or Restrictions for Working Hours and Maximum Work Disability Class and 12% for Functional Incapacity Score. Background IP variables and the measured ASE constructs for physicians contributed very little to the variation--at most 1%. The ICCs at office level ranged from 0% to around 1%. The R2 was 11% for No Sustainable Capacity or Restrictions for Working Hours, 19% for Functional Incapacity Score and 37% for Maximum Work Disability Class. Our study uncovered small to moderate systematic variations in the outcome of disability assessments in the Netherlands. However, the individual characteristics and opinions of insurance physicians have very little impact on these variations. Our findings provided no indications of other reasons for these variations. They may be related to different work routines or to different views on the workload of a 'normal' employee. If so, they could be reduced by well-developed and comprehensively implemented guidelines. Therefore, further research is needed
Original languageEnglish
Article number864
Pages (from-to)864
JournalBMC public health
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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