This study evaluated the effectiveness of a patient-oriented, hand rehabilitation programme compared to a standard programme regarding functional outcomes, return to work, patient satisfaction and costs. Patients were recruited in two consecutive cohorts. One cohort received the standard treatment programme (n = 75) and the other a programme based on principles of patient orientation (n = 75). Data were collected at the beginning and end of rehabilitation and 6 months after discharge. Clinical variables included range of motion, grip and pinch strength. Self-reported measures included pain, upper extremity functioning, health status, satisfaction and job situation. Analysis of variance for repeated measurements was used to calculate the main effects. The patient-oriented group showed more favourable results with respect to DASH scores (P <.05), pain (P <.001) and patient satisfaction (P <.0001). More patients returned to their former jobs and time off sick was reduced. We concluded that the patient-oriented approach was more effective and cost-saving.