Objective: To determine occurrence and reasons of contact between company doctors and treating physicians with respect to patients absent with low back pain for three months.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Method: A cohort of employees who were absent for 3 months with back pain were selected according to defined criteria. A questionnaire about medical status and communication with treating physicians was sent to their company doctors.
Results: The company doctors of 300 of 467 employees participated. In 19% of the employees the company doctor contacted the curative sector (56 contacts had taken place, 14 were planned). The contact consisted almost always of exchange of information and less frequently of co-operation towards a mutual policy. In almost 50% of the cases the company doctors regarded the clinical waiting period, length of treatment and opinion of the curative sector as disincentives to return to work. Psychosocial factors such as psychological problems, work-related motivation, private problems and a conflict between employer and employee all were mentioned less frequently. Although contacts were slightly more frequent when psychosocial factors, treatment or opinion of the curative sector inhibited return to work, only disincentives such as work-related motivation, motivation to return to work and the waiting period were significantly associated with the contact frequency.
Conclusion: The communication rate between company doctors and the curative sector in employees long absent with back pain is low. Communication consists of exchange of information rather than co-operation towards a mutual policy. Although according to many company doctors the curative sector plays an inhibitive role in return to work, they do not communicate accordingly.