Use of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health: a literature survey

J Rehabil Med. 2009 Jan;41(1):1-12. doi: 10.2340/16501977-0300.


Background: In 2001 the World Health Organization adopted the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) and it has since been utilized extensively.

Aim: A literature survey was undertaken to document reported use of the ICF, with regard to type of use, aims and implementation issues.

Methods: A convenience sample of 243 papers was analysed.

Results: There were few papers from developing countries, with USA and German authors responsible for almost 50% of the papers. The papers were published in 105 journals covering varying disciplines, health conditions and sectors. Problems included missing or overlapping codes, and codes that were inadequately granular. The Activity/Participation Category qualifiers presented users with the most challenges, and non-standard use of the qualifiers was often reported. The need for a category classifying Personal Factors was identified.

Conclusion: The ICF has already made a major impact on the way in which data concerning disability are conceptualized, collected and processed. Utilization in developing countries must be encouraged. The addition and clarification of certain codes should be considered by the World Health Organization. There is a clear need for a classification of personal factors to allow for complete reporting on the experience of disability.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / classification*
  • Chronic Disease / classification
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disabled Persons / classification*
  • Disabled Persons / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases*
  • Sickness Impact Profile
  • World Health Organization