Therapists’ experiences and needs with regard to providing work-focused care: a focus group study

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2021 Nov 2;22(1):923. doi: 10.1186/s12891-021-04806-4.


BACKGROUND: Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can create a temporary or permanent disability that reduce a person’s ability to work. Physiotherapists (PTs), occupational therapists (OTs) and exercise therapists (ETs) are often involved in the early management of MSDs. There is a need for additional insights into therapists’ experiences, barriers and needs to work-focused care. Moreover, there is no evidence on how OTs and ETs address work participation. Therefore, the aim of this qualitative study was 1) to investigate how generalist PTs, OTs and ETs provide work-focused healthcare and 2) to obtain insight into their perceived barriers and needs that affect their ability to address occupational factors.

METHODS: An exploratory qualitative study using three focus groups. Generalist PTs, OTs and ETs were eligible to participate if they treated working patients with MSDs. A semi-structured interview guide with open-ended questions was developed. Two moderators facilitated each focus group using the interview guide, and all the groups were audio recorded. Data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Sixteen therapists (mean age 44 years, range 25-59) participated in this study. Participants were aware of the importance of taking occupational factors into account. Whether they address occupational factors is largely dependent on the patient’s request for help. However, ETs and OTs consider it normal to ask about occupational factors during the diagnostic process, while PTs often address this in later consultations. Almost all participants were unaware of the existence of PTs, OTs or ETs who are specialised in occupational health. Moreover, almost all participants struggled with when to refer a patient to other (occupational) healthcare professionals. This study identified several needs of therapists. These included knowledge about laws and legislation and skills for identifying and addressing work-related or work-relevant complaints.

CONCLUSIONS: Participants in this qualitative study were aware of the importance of taking occupational factors into account. However, how PTs, OTs and ETs address work participation and the extent to which they do so can be improved. There was a lack of knowledge about and cooperation with occupational health professionals, including PTs, OTs or ETs specialised in occupational health.

PMID:34727896 | DOI:10.1186/s12891-021-04806-4

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