Return-to-work-experts for inpatient treatment of patients with mental illnesses- a proof-of-concept-study (RETURN): The study protocol

Lina Riedl, Daniela Blank, Monika Kohl, Anne Lang, Victoria Kehl, Peter Brieger, Johannes Hamann

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Background: Patients with mental illnesses often have massive difficulties returning to work after inpatient treatment at a psychiatric clinic and are often at risk of losing their jobs. The psychosocial support for this patient group at the interface of clinic/outpatient care is often insufficient. Methods/design: The RETURN-study prospectively assesses and surveys 200 patients with mental disorders in a cluster randomized intervention study, i.e. treatment teams and patients from intervention wards receive a return-to-work (RTW) intervention. Patients in control wards obtain treatment as usual (TAU). Pairs of comparable wards (similar patient population, similar staff density) have been identified and then randomized for control and intervention (n = 14 for each condition). On intervention wards return-to-work experts (RTW experts) who focus treatment on the workplace-related needs of patients with mental illnesses have been established. These RTW experts ensure the use of available resources within the framework of work-related discharge management and should lead to a more successful return to the workplace. The days at work in the year after release will be evaluated in a mixed methods approach as well as the return rate in the year after release, disability days in the year after return, relapse rate after 12 months, cost-benefit ratio of the intervention, analysis of the predictors / barriers for a successful return to the workplace (e.g. psychopathology, cognition, stigma, social-psychiatric support, company support, etc.), possibilities to implement the concept of RTW experts in standard psychiatric care (TAU - treatment as usual), the impact of the RTW experts' approach on the treatment process in standard psychiatric care. Discussion: This approach is already internationally established in the field of somatic rehabilitation and supported employment [Am J Psychiatry 171:1183-90, 2014; Lancet 370:1146-52, 2007; Cochrane Database Syst Rev, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006237.pub3, 2014]; the innovative aspect of this project is to implement and evaluate it in standard psychiatric care in Germany. This project requires no new interventions to be developed and tested, as the techniques of the case manager/job coach is applied to the field of return to work. Trial registration: The study was registered in Deutsches Register Klinische Studien searchable via its Meta-registry (, Trial registration number: DRKS00016037, Date of registration: 21/12/2018, URL of trial registry record.

Original languageEnglish
Article number177
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 19 Apr 2020


  • Hospitals
  • Mental health
  • Psychiatric
  • Return to work


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