STUDY OBJECTIVE--The extent to which patients undergoing elective surgery for orthopaedic disorders were incapacitated for work while they were on the waiting list and whether they were able to return to work after surgery were studied. DESIGN--This was a prospective cohort study of patients admitted to hospital for elective orthopaedic surgery. Main outcome measures were occurrence of sickness certification during the waiting time, and whether those incapacitated for work at the time of surgery returned to work during the first year after treatment. Multivariate logistic regression was used to estimate adjusted odds ratios for factors influencing return to work. SETTING--Orthopaedic department in charge of all elective orthopaedic surgery in a population of 197,354 persons in central Norway. SUBJECTS--All 2803 patients admitted to hospital for chronic orthopaedic disorders in the defined population between 1 September 1988 and 31 August 1990 were included in the study. MAIN RESULTS--Of the 1333 patients who were employed, 42% had been certified sick due to the orthopaedic disorder for some period of the waiting time. Sickness benefits from the national insurance scheme (paid from the 15th day of sickness certification) had been received by 33% and were received by 29% at the time of surgery. Of 380 patients incapacitated for work at the time of surgery, 53% returned to work within the first year after surgery. Using those treated within one month of being placed on the waiting list as the reference group, the adjusted odds ratios for not returning to work during the first year after surgery were 9.2 (p < 0.0001) for those who waited more than a year for surgery, 6.2 (p = 0.002) for those waiting nine to 12 months, and 4.9 (p = 0.02) for those waiting for six to nine months. CONCLUSIONS--A high proportion of these patients were incapacitated for work, 53% of those incapacitated returned to work within the first year after surgery. The probability of returning to work after surgery is strongly influenced by the length of time on the waiting list. Waiting for more than one year, compared with immediate treatment, was associated with an adjusted odds ratio of 9.2 for not returning to work.
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