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BMC Fam Pract. 2011 Apr 11;12:18. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-12-18.

Physicians' messages in problematic sickness certification: a narrative analysis of case reports.

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Division of Insurance Medicine, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.



Many physicians find sickness certification tasks problematic. There is some knowledge about situations that are experienced as problematic, whereas less is understood about how physicians respond to the problems they face. One way to acquire such knowledge is to consider "reflection-in-action", aspects of which are expressed in the physician's interpretation of the patient's story. The aim of this study was to gain knowledge about the meaning content of case reports about problematic sickness certification. Specifically, we looked for possible messages to the colleagues intended to read the reports.


A narrative approach was used to analyse reports about problematic sickness certification cases that had been written by GPs and occupational health service physicians as part of a sickness insurance course. The analysis included elements from both thematic and structural analysis. Nineteen case reports were used in the actual analysis and 25 in the validation of the results. Main narrative qualities and structural features of the written case reports were explored.


Five types of messages were identified in the case reports, here classified as "a call for help", "a call for understanding", "hidden worries", "in my opinion", and "appearing neutral". In the reports, the physicians tried to achieve neutrality in their writing, and the patients' stories tended to be interpreted within a traditional biomedical framework. In some cases there was an open request for help, in others it was not obvious that the physician had any problems. Overall, the messages were about having problems as such, rather than the specific features of the problems.


The case reports clearly demonstrated different ways of writing about problems that arise during sickness certification, from being neutral and not mentioning the problems to being emotionally involved and asking for help. The general character of the messages suggests that they are also relevant for case reports in problematic areas other than sickness certification. If pertinent relationships can be found between reflection-in-practice and the narrative writing about practice, they will provide an approach to further research concerning consultations perceived as problematic and also to medical education.

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