Background: The purpose of this review was to identify critical data and research needs in addressing the following question: What are the primary factors that affect the time lost from work, return-to-work (RTW), subsequent unemployment, and changes in occupation after disabling illness or injury?
Methods: Review of the literature to identify research challenges originating from the multitude of disciplines, data sources, outcome measures, and methodological and analytical problems.
Results: About 100 different determinants of RTW outcomes were identified. Their impact varies across different phases of the disablement process. Recommendations are provided for addressing five selected research challenges.
Conclusion: Interdisciplinary research needs to develop a comprehensive conceptual framework. Priority should be given to studies on specific domains of risk factors meeting five selection criteria: amenability to change; relevance to users of research; generalizability across health conditions, disability phases, and settings; "degree of promise" as derived from qualitative exploratory studies; and capacity to improve measurement instruments. Combining qualitative and quantitative research methods is necessary to bridge existing knowledge gaps.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.