New research is driving home the consequences. Scientific abstracts presented Monday in Las Vegas, at the annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians, offer insights into how frequently patients with mental health issues land in the emergency room — often because opportunities to intervene earlier are missed. Pediatricians and child psychiatrists say children are among the hardest hit.
The researchers analyzed data compiled by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which tracked mental health visits to hospital emergency departments between 2001 and 2011.
Compared with physically ill patients, people with mental health conditions rely more on the emergency department for treatment and are more often admitted to the hospital from the ER, the scientists found. Also, they tended to be stuck in the ER longer than people who show up in the ER with physical symptoms.
Specifically, the researchers found that about 6 percent of all the emergency department patients — of all ages — had a psychiatric condition. More than 20 percent of these psychiatric patients were admitted to the hospital, compared with just over 13 percent of the medical patients. About 11 percent of these patients with mental health problems required transfer to another facility, compared with 1.4 percent of the patients with physical ailments.
About 23 percent of mental health patients stayed in emergency care for longer than six hours, and about 1.3 percent for more than 24 hours. Only 10 percent of medical patients were under treatment in the ER for more than six hours, and just half a percent were there for more than 24 hours.
The researchers have not yet determined the distribution of ages among the patients in their study who came to the ER because of mental health symptoms. Anecdotally, though, ER patients with psychiatric problems tend to include more children and …