Impact of a Mental Health Screening Process in a Pediatric Emergency Department.

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DOI: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000003200


OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to describe how specific mental health-trained social workers can assist in the evaluations and follow-up of patients presenting with mental health concerns in the pediatric emergency department (ED).

METHODS: Work was performed at a quaternary children's hospital ED with 95,000 annual ED visits across 2 locations. Patients requiring mental health services identified based on presenting complaint or from universal suicide screen were included. Emergency department team first evaluates the patients for medical screening and then consults a team of social workers specialized in acute mental health screening (AMHS). The team evaluates and provides recommendation for disposition and assists in plan completion. For patients not admitted, AMHS team makes 24- and 48-hour calls to ensure safety. We collected and analyzed the data on all eligible patients from September 2015 through June 2019 for (1) demographic information, (2) trends in number of consults to AMHS, (3) disposition plans and trends by year, and (4) frequency of follow-up phone calls.

RESULTS: A total of 5950 patient visits were reviewed, for 4454 distinct patients. Most patients were 12 to 17 years of age, female, and White, with Medicaid being the predominant insurance. The most common chief complaint was suicidal ideation/plan/attempt. Self-referrals were the majority of assessments, and 59% of patients were already receiving mental health services. Median team response time was 19 minutes. There was an upward trend in consults. Psychiatric hospitalization was the most common disposition; more than 95% of the other visits had timely follow-up phone calls.

CONCLUSION: Despite an increasing number of patients presenting to the ED with mental health crisis, safe and efficient management is possible with ED staff-social worker partnership. This approach can ensure that eligible patients receive consistent and evidence-based evaluations and can allow ED clinicians to respond to medical emergencies that require their attention.

Journal Title

Pediatric emergency care





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MeSH Keywords

Humans; Emergency Service, Hospital; Female; Male; Child; Adolescent; Mass Screening; Mental Disorders; Social Workers; Hospitals, Pediatric; Suicidal Ideation; Mental Health Services; Mental Health


Hospital Emergency Service; Mass Screening; Mental Disorders; Social Workers; Pediatric Hospitals; Suicidal Ideation; Mental Health Services; Mental Health

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