Objective: To compare the perspectives of employees with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with those of medical professionals regarding what persons with RA need to prevent work disability.
Methods: Concept mapping was conducted in a group session with 21 employees and by mail with 17 medical professionals. Each group was asked to formulate statements on what enables employees with RA to retain their jobs. Group members scored all statements for importance and clustered them into themes. Results were statistically aggregated at the group level.
Results: The concept mapping with employees yielded 59 statements, which were clustered into 7 themes. The 4 most important themes were employer support; understanding and acceptance of illness by employees themselves; suitable working conditions; and support from colleagues, health professionals, and the patient's organization. The concept mapping with medical professionals yielded 65 statements, which were clustered into 8 themes. The 6 most important themes were well-informed professionals who cooperate effectively; employees' coping capacities and commitment to work; financial regulations at the workplace; adequate social security provisions, medication, and therapy; a positive attitude on the part of employers and colleagues; and suitable working conditions.
Conclusion: Factors that enable continued employment lie at different levels, including the psychosocial, practical, organizational, and social policy levels. Health professionals appear to underestimate factors that are important from the patient's perspective, especially support from employers. In discussing work with patients, health professionals need to address themes that are important from the patient's perspective.