Increasing return-to-work among people on sick leave due to common mental disorders: design of a cluster-randomized controlled trial of a problem-solving intervention versus care-as-usual conducted in the Swedish primary health care system (PROSA)

BMC Public Health. 2018 Jul 18;18(1):889. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5816-8.


Background: Common mental disorders affect about one-third of the European working-age population and are one of the leading causes of sick leave in Sweden and other OECD countries. Besides the individual suffering, the costs for society are high. This paper describes the design of a study to evaluate a work-related, problem-solving intervention provided at primary health care centers for employees on sick leave due to common mental disorders.

Methods: The study has a two-armed cluster randomized design in which the participating rehabilitation coordinators are randomized into delivering the intervention or providing care-as-usual. Employees on sick leave due to common mental disorders will be recruited by an independent research assistant. The intervention aims to improve the employee's return-to-work process by identifying problems perceived as hindering return-to-work and finding solutions. The rehabilitation coordinator facilitates a participatory approach, in which the employee and the employer together identify obstacles and solutions in relation to the work situation. The primary outcome is total number of sick leave days during the 18-month follow-up after inclusion. A long-term follow-up at 36 months is planned. Secondary outcomes are short-term sick leave (min. 2 weeks and max. 12 weeks), psychological symptoms, work ability, presenteeism and health related quality of life assessed at baseline, 6 and 12-month follow-up. Intervention fidelity, reach, dose delivered and dose received will be examined in a process evaluation. An economic evaluation will put health-related quality of life and sick leave in relation to costs from the perspectives of society and health care services. A parallel ethical evaluation will focus on the interventions consequences for patient autonomy, privacy, equality, fairness and professional ethos and integrity.

Discussion: The study is a pragmatic trial which will include analyses of the intervention's effectiveness, and a process evaluation in primary health care settings. Methodological strengths and challenges are discussed, such as the risk of selection bias, contamination and detection bias. If the intervention shows promising results for return-to-work, the prospects are good for implementing the intervention in routine primary health care.

Trial registration: Identifier: NCT03346395 Registered January, 12 2018.

Keywords: Adjustment disorders; Anxiety disorders; Cluster-randomized trial; Common mental disorders; Depression; Economic evaluation; Ethical evaluation; Problem solving skills; Return to work; Sick leave.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol
  • Comparative Study
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Problem Solving
  • Quality of Life*
  • Research Design
  • Return to Work / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sick Leave / economics
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sweden
  • Young Adult

Associated data