The Practical Application of Theory and Research for Preventing Work Disability: A New Paradigm for Occupational Rehabilitation Services in China?

Introduction Several studies have been conducted in the West showing that return to work (RTW) coordination is a key element to facilitate RTW of injured workers and to prevent work disabilities. However, no study has been carried out to investigate the scope of RTW activities in China. The purpose of this study was to explore the views of key RTW stakeholders on necessary activities for RTW coordination. Methods A cross-sectional survey was conducted in Guangdong province of China. A three-tiered approach including focus group discussions and panel reviews was used to collect RTW activities, analyze the content validity, and classify domains. Descriptive statistics and intra-class correlation (ICC) were used to describe the importance of RTW activities and the degree of agreement on the classification of different domains. A Kruskal–Wallis test with subsequent post-hoc analysis using multiple Mann–Whitney U tests was carried out to check for any differences in the domains of different RTW activities among RTW stakeholders. Results The domains of RTW activities in China were similar to those in the West and included workplace assessment and mediation, social problem solving, role and liability clarification, and medical advice. Good agreement (ICC: 0.729–0.844) on the classification of RTW activities into different domains was found. The domains of the RTW activities of healthcare providers differed from those of employers (P = 0.002) and injured workers (P = 0.001). However, there was no significant difference between employers and injured workers. Conclusions This study indicated that differences among stakeholders were observed in terms of areas of relative priority. There is a clear need for research and training in China to establish a nation-wide terminology for RTW coordination, facilitate cross-provincial studies and work toward a more integrated system addressing the diverse perspectives of stakeholders involved in the RTW process.

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