Capturing complexity in work disability research: application of system dynamics modeling methodology
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BACKGROUND: Work disability (WD) is characterized by variable and occasionally undesirable outcomes. The underlying determinants of WD outcomes include patterns of dynamic relationships among health, personal, organizational and regulatory factors that have been challenging to characterize, and inadequately represented by contemporary WD models. METHOD: System dynamics modeling (SDM) methodology applies a sociotechnical systems thinking lens to view WD systems as comprising a range of influential factors linked by feedback relationships. SDM can potentially overcome limitations in contemporary WD models by uncovering causal feedback relationships, and conceptualizing dynamic system behaviors. It employs a collaborative and stakeholder-based model building methodology to create a visual depiction of the system as a whole. SDM can also enable researchers to run dynamic simulations to provide evidence of anticipated or unanticipated outcomes that could result from policy and programmatic intervention. DISCUSSION: SDM may advance rehabilitation research by providing greater insights into the structure and dynamics of WD systems while helping to understand inherent complexity. Challenges related to data availability, determining validity, and the extensive time and technical skill requirements for model building may limit SDM's use in the field and should be considered. IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATION: Contemporary work disability (WD) models provide limited insight into complexity associated with WD processes. System dynamics modeling (SDM) has the potential to capture complexity through a stakeholder-based approach that generates a simulation model consisting of multiple feedback loops. SDM may enable WD researchers and practitioners to understand the structure and behavior of the WD system as a whole, and inform development of improved strategies to manage straightforward and complex WD cases.
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