Work disability is a major consequence of inflammatory rheumatic conditions. Evidence regarding the effectiveness of interventions aimed at the prevention or reduction of work disability in rheumatic diseases is limited. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of a multidisciplinary job-retention vocational rehabilitation (VR) program in patients with a rheumatic condition who were at risk for job loss.
A total of 140 patients with a chronic rheumatic condition were randomly assigned to either a multidisciplinary job-retention VR program (n = 74) or usual outpatient care (UC) (n = 66). Patients in the VR group were assessed and guided by a multidisciplinary team, whereas patients in the UC group received care as initiated by their rheumatologist, supplemented with written information. The main outcome measure was the occurrence of job loss (complete work disability or unemployment); additional outcome measures included job satisfaction, pain, functional status, emotional status, and quality of life.
There was no difference between the 2 groups regarding the proportion of patients having lost their job at any time point, with 24% and 23% of the patients in the VR and UC groups, respectively, having lost their job after 24 months. Over the total period of 24 months, patients in the VR group had a significantly greater improvement of the fatigue visual analog scale and of emotional status (all P values < 0.05).
A job-retention VR program did not reduce the risk of job loss but improved fatigue and mental health in patients with chronic rheumatic diseases at risk for job loss.