STUDY DESIGN: Electronic Web-based survey INTRODUCTION: Evidence supports the use of health-focused interventions combined with service coordination and work modification components to reduce the individual, community, and societal burden associated with acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions. The levels of engagement, skill, and confidence of Australian hand therapists in assisting their patients to return to work (RTW) are currently unknown.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY: To identify current practices, skill, and the need for additional training in management of the RTW process from a sample of Australian hand therapists.
METHODS: An electronic survey was sent to current members of the Australian Hand Therapy Association. Data collected included training and/or professional experience, caseload and/or workplace, scope of and barriers to vocational practice, and satisfaction with own contribution to the RTW process for patients.
RESULTS: A total of 99 individual responses (12.4% of total membership) were included, with most indicating a limited role in the RTW process. Only 52.7% said they regularly monitored and adjusted their patients' RTW program. Most plans were informed by formal tests of underlying body structure and function components rather than the patient's ability to perform of a specific work role or task. Median satisfaction with the quality of RTW service they provided was 6 of 10, with 42% scoring ≤ 5 of 10, indicating considerable scope for improvement.
CONCLUSIONS: Practice patterns are described for planning and monitoring RTW, and these did not always align with the evidence-base. Further exploration of clinician barriers to implementing RTW interventions is warranted, as is upskilling for those indicating a lack of confidence in this field.