The Use of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health in Primary Care: Findings of Exploratory Implementation Throughout Life

Inge Debrouwere, Jo Lebeer, Peter Prinzie


Purpose:   The International Classification of Functioning (ICF) has found widespread acceptance since it was launched in 2001. Yet, little is known about its use in Primary Care. This paper aims to contribute to the dialogue about the practical use of the ICF by exploring how this framework constitutes a supplementary source to inform disability-related decision making in integrated Primary Care.

Method: The implementation process of the ICF in a Latin American Primary Care and Community-Based Rehabilitation setting is described and the ICF diagram is applied to a life story as an example of its current use. Participant observation, in-depth study of reports of team meetings and the review of clinical files are the main data collection methods. Data analysis is enabled by the combination of single-case study with theory testing, which facilitates the generation of hypotheses in this exploratory study.

Results: A valuable time component of the ICF may support continuity in Primary Care and the universal application of the ICF framework can promote comprehensiveness by integrating individual rehabilitation and collective disability prevention. A way to mitigate the perceived dominance of biomedical disease and deficiency thinking is proposed in order to encourage the biopsychosocial focus of Primary Care. Finally, the implementation of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) in the health condition domain of the ICF highlights the importance of social responsibility towards disability.

Conclusion: This study suggests that a creative implementation of the ICF during life course to everyone who uses universally accessible healthcare may strengthen the integrative functions of Primary Care, and may be at the heart of the information system of this essential part of the healthcare system. Further research on the complementary use of ICF and ICD-10 is suggested in order to support community-based multisectoral intervention which may be coordinated by Primary Care.


ICF; Primary health care; disability management; integrative functions of primary care; Life Course Approach

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