Even with regular treatment from mental health professionals in an outpatient setting, many teens and children with psychiatric and behavioral challenges still wind up visiting the emergency room more often than their healthy counterparts. According to a new study that looked at the medical records of children between the ages of 3 and 17, nearly 12 percent had multiple visits to the ER. The data, collected at the John Hopkins Children’s Center emergency room, indicated that most of the trips to the ER were the result of either negligible mental health crisis, or minor behavioral issues. There were very few occasions that children were treated repeatedly for serious psychotic episodes (3%) or attempted suicides (10%). The researchers discovered that nearly two thirds of the children listed that they had a mental health clinician at the time of the first episode. And even more, nearly 85% said that they were seeing a mental health care provider when they returned to the ER. The researchers question if the outpatient care being provided is adequately helping the children. They note that most emergency rooms do not offer sufficient staff and tools available to act as effective mental health facilities.
“We think of the ER as a ‘front door to care,’ but our findings suggest otherwise as a significant number of patients repeatedly seek care in the ER despite being connected to an outpatient provider,” said lead author Emily Frosch, M.D., a pediatric psychiatrist at Hopkins Children’s. “We need to understand why families who are already connected to outpatient providers continue to seek ER care, why providers send patients to the ER and what role, if any, ER’s may play in the continuum of care for non-psychotic, non-suicidal patients,” she said. “Perhaps the most critical questions to ask are ‘When was the child’s latest outpatient visit?’ and ‘What exactly transpired between that visit and their subsequent trip to the ER?’” said Frosch.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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