Vocational rehabilitation in patients with chronic rheumatic diseases: a systematic literature review

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2002 Dec;32(3):196-203. doi: 10.1053/sarh.2002.34609.


Objective: To describe the effectiveness of vocational rehabilitation programs for patients with chronic rheumatic diseases by means of a systematic review of the literature.

Methods: Data were obtained by a computer-aided and manual search of the literature from 1980 until May 2001. Vocational rehabilitation programs had to be clearly defined interventions specifically aimed at having patients with rheumatic diseases reenter or remain in the work force. The vocational rehabilitation programs had to be executed by one or more health professionals. Outcome of the intervention had to be described in terms of vocational status (work disability, sick leave, job modification, paid occupation, retraining).

Results: Six studies were identified. All were uncontrolled studies. Follow-up periods ranged 2-84 months. Five of six vocational rehabilitation programs consisted of multidisciplinary intervention and 15% to 69% of the patients successfully returned to work.

Conclusions: Although 5 of 6 studies showed a marked positive effect of vocational rehabilitation on work status, proof of the benefit of these interventions is limited, mainly due to methodologic differences and shortcomings.

Relevance: Work disability is a major consequence of the disease in patients with rheumatic conditions. More and more attention is being paid to preventing disability and promoting return to work. Knowledge regarding the effectiveness of vocational rehabilitation programs is insufficient. Semin Arthritis Rheum 32:196-203.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / rehabilitation
  • Databases, Factual
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Humans
  • Rehabilitation, Vocational*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Sick Leave
  • Treatment Outcome