Background There are currently high absenteeism and disability among people with musculoskeletal diseases in Norway. 46% of absenteeism and nearly half of the disability are associated with musculoskeletal diseases. A national return to work program (RTW) was introduced in Norway in 2007 with the aim of bringing people on sick leave back to work as soon as possible, or to avoid sick leave. Lillehammer Hospital for Rheumatic diseases has since 2008 offered different RTW-groups for patients with musculoskeletal diseases.
Objectives The aim of the present study was to determine participants' experiences after completed different interdisciplinary RTW-group programs. The main focuses for the interviews were work ability, self-efficacy and quality of life.
Methods A qualitative study with semi-structured interviews was used to disclose participants' experiences. Seventeen women with musculoskeletal diseases (fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, polymyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis) participated in three focus group interviews and one individual interview. Their median age was 47 years, ranging from 28-57. The transcribed interviews were analyzed by thematic analysis.
Results For all participants it was important being employed, to have something to do, have good colleagues and being a part of a community. Through inclusion in the RTW-group participants changed the way they were thinking and they had an optimistic view of the future. Many participants expressed they had changed their focus from what they struggled with to what they managed. The participants became more aware of how they spent their time and lived their lives. They had to do changes to achieve better quality of life. Some participants had reduced working hours to get more time together with family and friends. Others got a new job. Many participants also changed the lifestyle with more physical activity and changes in diet, which resulted in weight loss, more energy and less pain.
Conclusions Six months after completed RTW-programs, participants had increased awareness of their own responsibility and what they could do to remain at work. Many participants had implemented measures that resulted in better balance between work and social life, better quality of life and a healthier lifestyle.
Disclosure of Interest None declared