Return-to-work intervention versus usual care for sick-listed employees: Health-economic investment appraisal alongside a cluster randomised trial

Suzanne Lokman*, Danielle Volker, Moniek C. Zijlstra-Vlasveld, Evelien Pm Brouwers, Brigitte Boon, Aartjan Tf Beekman, Filip Smit, Christina M. Van Der Feltz-Cornelis

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objective To evaluate the health-economic costs and benefits of a guided eHealth intervention (E-health module embedded in Collaborative Occupational healthcare (ECO)) encouraging sick-listed employees to a faster return to work. Design A two-armed cluster randomised trial with occupational physicians (OPs) (n=62), clustered and randomised by region into an experimental and a control group, to conduct a health-economic investment appraisal. Online self-reported data were collected from employees at baseline, after 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. Setting Occupational health care in the Netherlands. Participants Employees from small-sized and medium-sized companies (≥18 years), sick-listed between 4 and 26 weeks with (symptoms of) common mental disorders visiting their OP. Interventions In the intervention group, employees (N=131) received an eHealth module aimed at changing cognitions regarding return to work, while OPs were supported by a decision aid for treatment and referral options. Employees in the control condition (N=89) received usual sickness guidance. Outcomes Measures Net benefits and return on investment based on absenteeism, presenteeism, health care use and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) gained. Results From the employer's perspective, the incremental net benefits were €3187 per employee over a single year, representing a return of investment of €11 per invested Euro, with a break-even point at 6 months. The economic case was also favourable from the employee's perspective, partly because of QALY health gains. The intervention was costing €234 per employee from a health service financier's perspective. The incremental net benefits from a social perspective were €4210. This amount dropped to €3559 in the sensitivity analysis trimming the 5% highest costs. Conclusions The data suggest that the ECO intervention offers good value for money for virtually all stakeholders involved, because initial investments were more than recouped within a single year. The sometimes wide 95% CIs suggest that the costs and benefits are not always very precise estimates and real benefits could vary considerably. Trial Registration NTR2108; Results.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere016348
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

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