Get access

Using a multidisciplinary classification in nursing: the International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health


  • Theo Van Achterberg PhD RN,

  • Gerda Holleman MSN RN,

  • Yvonne Heijnen-Kaales MSN RN,

  • Ype Van der Brug MSN RN,

  • Gabriël Roodbol MSN RN,

  • Hillegonda A. Stallinga MSN RN,

  • Fokje Hellema MSN RN,

  • Carla M.A. Frederiks PhD RN

Theo Van Achterberg,
Centre for Quality of Care Research,
University Medical Centre St Radboud,
Nursing Science Section,
PO Box 9101,
6500 HB Nijmegen,
The Netherlands.


Aim.  This paper reports a study to explore systematically the usefulness of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health to nurses giving patient care.

Background.  The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health has a history of more than 20 years. Although this World Health Organization classification offers multidisciplinary use, nurses are not familiar with it.

Methods.  Applications of the International Classification for nursing practice were developed and evaluated in a multi-centre project, composed of a series of 10 projects in a variety of settings. These applications were a variety of tools, such as assessment forms, care plans and transfer forms. The study used information from 653 patients, 469 nurses and 178 others (International Classification experts; other professionals with whom nurses communicate or discuss patient data).

Findings.  Large sections of the International Classification were used in the 10 projects, revealing a predominant focus on body functions (53% of all three-digit codes and corresponding terms used). Although large sections of the Classification were useful in practice applications, some items were identified that could be added, improved or described with more detail. Positive remarks made by nurses referred to the scope of the International Classification, which encouraged assessing beyond a patient's functional impairments.

Conclusions.  The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health can be a useful tool in classifying and communicating aspects of patient functioning by nurses. A level of moderate detail within the Classification (three-digit level) seems appropriate for most nursing purposes. Our results on items that could be added or improved can serve as input in future revisions of the Classification. Future use of the International Classification should be encouraged, because of its relevance to nursing and its potential for multidisciplinary use in patient care.