Physicians are supposed to act as sick-listing experts and they possess a role as gate-keepers to the social insurance system. Earlier studies have demonstrated variation between physicians and physician categories regarding sick-listing practice. In addition to the patient's disease and its severity, a number of other factors may be expected to influence sick-listing practice. Most earlier studies have focused on the patient's disease and his or her work place as cause for sickness absence.
The aims of this study were to analyse variation of sick-listing practice between physician categories and the influence of physician characteristics on sick-listing practice, the influence of structure, organisation and remuneration of health care on physician sick-listing practice, the influence of local structural factors in the community, and the influence of a legislative change on physician sick-listing practice.
The study was conducted as a cross-sectional epidemiological study of 57563 doctors’ certificates for sickness absence, received by 28 local social insurance offices in eight Swedish counties, during four months in 1995 and two months in 1996.
Patient age, sex, and diagnostic group, issuing physician category, presence of a hospital in the municipality, municipality population size and county were all significantly and independently correlated to number of net days of sick-listing. Physician characteristics, such as age, sex and degree of specialisation were all associated with number of net days of sick-listing. Physicians working in general practice issued significantly shorter periods of sick-listing than the other physician categories. Reimbursement of general practice and participation in financial co-operation with social insurance were significantly correlated to length of sickness episode issued by general practitioners. A legislative change performed during the study period was associated with small effects in sick-listing practice.
In conclusion, a number of factors other than disease and disease severity and other patient and physician linked factors were found to influence the variation of sick-listing practice. It appears that the closer the influencing factor was to the place were the decision was taken, i.e., the patient-physician consultation, the higher the impact on the decision appeared to be.