Background: Health care workers (HCWs) typically face high work demands, which can be exacerbated during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These demands may result in high psychological distress and reduced work performance. Although there are psychological interventions to reduce stress in HCWs under normal working circumstances, no intervention have been specifically developed to addresses stress in the context of public health crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of RECHARGE, a psychological intervention specifically developed for HCWs to reduce distress in HCWs. It is based on a brief crisis intervention of the World Health Organization that teaches basic stress management skills from cognitive behavioural therapy.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial (RCT) will be carried out among 160 physicians, nurses, and other HCWs working in hospitals in Switzerland during COVID-19, who are at least moderately distressed. HCWs will be randomised to RECHARGE (n=80) or active treatment as usual (ATAU) (n=80). Pre-intervention (week 1, T1), post-intervention (week 4, T2) and 2-month follow-up (week 12, T3) assessments include psychological distress as primary outcome, and indicators of mental ill-being (worries, anxiety, depression, burnout, traumatic stress, distress due to perceived ethical dilemma) and work performance as secondary outcomes. These outcomes will be compared between HCWs in the RECHARGE and ATAU groups.
Discussion: RECHARGE is an evidence-informed brief, flexible, easily scalable, fully online psychological program that allows delivery in pandemic conditions, including social isolation. Therefore, this program can serve as a much-needed template for an intervention to reduce stress and enhance work performance in HCWs during the COVID-19 pandemic. If proven effective, RECHARGE may not only be used to reduce elevated stress in HCWs in Switzerland, but also globally. Key words: COVID-19, randomised controlled trial, protocol, health care workers; psychological treatment; distress, crisis intervention; pandemic; resilience;