Psychiatric wait times in emergency departments

November 12, 2012

Patients with mental illness visiting emergency departments in Ontario have shorter waits to see a doctor during crowded periods and only slightly longer waits during less busy periods, found a study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario recommended in 2008 that the Ontario government add a psychiatric wait times measure to its Emergency Room Wait Times Strategy. The Kirby Report on mental illness and addiction in Canada also referred to differential emergency treatment for patients with mental illness.

"Perhaps surprisingly, as crowding increased, the delays experienced by patients with mental illness were actually lesser than the delays experienced by other patients; this is in contrast to concerns that these patients are disproportionately affected by crowding in the ," writes Dr. Clare Atzema, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ont., with coauthors.

In a study of 51 381 emergency visits by people with manic, depressive or , researchers found that most people received a triage score of 3 (out of triage levels of 1, 3 or 4), higher than the scores of most other emergency department patients. However, people with waited a median of 10 minutes longer than others to see a physician. As crowding increased in the emergency department, patients with mental illness waited less time to be assessed by a physician than other patients (mild crowding 14 minutes less; moderate crowding 39 minutes less and severe crowding 48 minutes less). Patients with mental illness had shorter waits from decision to admission and to being transferred to a ward compared with other patients.

The researchers suggest that the presence of psychiatric teams, available in many emergency departments in academic and larger , may help in identifying higher priority patients.

"Our findings support our belief that triage nurses follow the guidelines, and do not systematically "down-triage" patients with mental illness," write the authors. "Instead, our results show an increase in high priority triage scores during periods of crowding, which was greater than what occurred for other patients."

Explore further: Crowded emergency departments deliver less effective pain relief

More information:

Related Stories

Triage decisions differ for paramedics and physicians

July 13, 2012

(HealthDay) -- Real-time emergency room triage decisions by paramedics agree with the triage decisions of emergency residents about half the time, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Emergency ...

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...

Plan ahead for successful aging, researcher says

October 20, 2016

For many people, the prospect of aging is scary and uncomfortable, but Florida State University Assistant Professor Dawn Carr says that research reveals a few tips that can improve our chances of a long, healthy life.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.