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Linking health and health-related information to the ICF: A systematic review of the literature from 2001 to 2008


Fayed, Nora; Cieza, Alarcos; Bickenbach, Jerome Edmond


k. A.


Disability and Rehabilitation, 2011, Volume 33 (Number 21/22), Seite 1941-1951, London: Informa Healthcare, ISSN: 0963-8288 (Print); 1464-5165 (Online)





In 1976, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated worldwide disability prevalence at 10%%; recent evidence suggests the prevalence is even higher. Given the extent of disability around the world, it is essential for researchers and policy makers to have a uniform language for describing and discussing disability. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) is WHO's attempt to provide that standard language. Linking rules were published in 2002 and 2005 suggesting a method for standardising the process of connecting outcome measures to the ICF classification. The objective of this study is to study the extent to which the linking rules have been used by researchers to link health and health-related information to the ICF and collect the feedback about the current practices, applications and areas to improve the linking method.


Using a systematic review of health-based literature between 2001 and February 2008, we (1) determined research areas where the linking method is applied, (2) examined the characteristics of studies that linked information to the ICF and (3) described current practices and issues related to the process of linking health and health-related information to the ICF both quantitatively and qualitatively.


The systematic review yielded 109 articles from 58 journals that linked health information to the ICF and 58 of the articles employed published linking rules. The majority of articles were descriptive in nature, used linking for connecting content of health instruments to the ICF and linked English health content. Quality controls such as reliability checks, multiple raters and iterative linking processes were found frequently among users of the linking rules. Qualitative analysis created themes about: preparing units of information, who links to the ICF, reliability, matching or translating concepts from text to ICF categories, information unable or difficult to capture, quantitative reporting standards and overall linking process.


This review also shows that the linking process is a useful way to apply the ICF classification in research. With over 100 articles published in 58 peer-reviewed journals across 50 focus areas, linking health and health-related information to the ICF has been shown to be a useful tool for describing, comparing and contrasting information from outcome measures used to collect quantitative data, qualitative research results and clinical patient reports across diagnoses, settings, languages and countries.

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Disability and Rehabilitation

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Informationsstand: 18.11.2011

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