Patients are less satisfied with better company doctor

February 05, 2004

Dutch researcher Karen Nieuwenhuijsen found that the more company doctors comply with the guidelines, the less satisfied patients who visit them due to psychological complaints are with the treatment they receive. She therefore concludes that involving patients in the development and adaptation of such guidelines could make these more useful.

Employees who are absent due to psychological complaints visit the company doctor for socio-medical counselling. The greater the company doctor's compliance with the guideline 'psychological complaints' whilst providing this counselling, the shorter the period of absenteeism. Although the patients are satisfied with this counselling, this satisfaction decreases as the company doctor's compliance with the guideline increases.

It was also found that the counselling provided by the company doctor did not affect the extent of the fatigue complaints. These complaints show a marked decrease during the counselling period anyway.

During the initial consultation with the employee, the company doctor can assess a number of factors to predict the length of the absence. Important predictors of an unfavourable prognosis are a higher age, the employee being pessimistic about the length of absence, an average or high level of education, and a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder or a depression. As the employee's assessment of the situation is so important, this provides starting points for counselling.

Employees who had regular contact with managers during the period of absence returned to work earlier than other employees. This was only true for employees with few depressive complaints. For employees with a lot of depressive complaints, regular contact had no effect on their return.

Over a period of one year, the researcher followed almost 200 patients who were absent due to psychological complaints. They were interviewed, received an extensive questionnaire on four occasions and the company doctor of the employee concerned registered what happened during the consultations. Using this information, the researcher investigated whether the duration of the absence, the fatigue complaints and satisfaction with the care provided, were dependent on how the company doctor complied with the guideline.

If the employees gave their consent, the researcher also approached the manager to ascertain his or her role during the period of absence.
-end-
The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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