Role of a Digital Return-To-Work Solution for Individuals With Common Mental Disorders: Qualitative Study of the Perspectives of Three Stakeholder Groups

Patrik Engdahl, Petra Svedberg, Annika Lexén, Ulrika Bejerholm
JMIR Formative Research 2020 September 16, 4 (9): e15625

BACKGROUND: Although effective return-to-work (RTW) interventions are not widely available for individuals with common mental disorders on sick leave, there is potential for transforming such interventions into a digital solution in an effort to make them more widely available. However, little is currently known about the viewpoints of different stakeholder groups, which are critical for successful development and implementation of a digital RTW intervention in health care services.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to examine stakeholder groups' perspectives on the role and legitimacy of a digital RTW solution called mWorks for individuals with common mental disorders who are on sick leave.

METHODS: A purposeful snowball sampling method was utilized to recruit respondents. Semistructured individual and focus group interviews were conducted for stakeholder groups of service users, RTW professionals, and influential managers regarding their experiences, needs, and preferences for mWorks. Content analysis generated themes and categories that constituted the main findings.

RESULTS: The legitimacy of a digital RTW solution was high among all stakeholder groups since such a tool was perceived to enable service users to take control over their RTW process. This was mainly a product of accessible support and promotion of service user decision making, which had the potential to empower service users. All respondents stressed the importance of fostering a positive user experience with usability and emphasis on service user resources and strengths, as opposed to various limitations and shortcomings. Stakeholder groups highlighted critical content to facilitate RTW, such as the need to clarify a back-to-work plan, accompanied by an accessible RTW network and strategies for handling mental health problems. Implementation challenges primarily involved influential managers' concern of legislation incompatibility with innovative technology, and RTW professionals' concern of the possibility that digital solutions may replace them to a certain extent.

CONCLUSIONS: This formative research emphasizes the importance of shifting power from RTW professionals to service users. mWorks can play a role in mediating service user control over the RTW process, and thereby increase their empowerment. A digital RTW solution may facilitate the circumvention of implementation barriers associated with introducing evidence-based RTW interventions in a traditional RTW context.

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