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Feasibility of expanded emergency department screening for behavioral health problems

Behavioral health conditions and social problems are common yet underrecognized among emergency department (ED) patients. Traditionally, ED-based behavioral health screening is limited. We evaluated the feasibility of expanded behavioral health screening by a trained nonclinician. Prospective observational study of a convenience sample of ED patients. A research assistant (RA) approached a convenience sample of adult ED patients within an integrated healthcare delivery system. Patients completed a paper screening instrument (domains: mood, anxiety, alcohol use, drug use, sleep, intimate partner violence, and chronic pain) and reviewed responses with the RA, who shared positive screening results with the treating ED physician. We abstracted behavioral health and medical diagnoses from the electronic health record (EHR), comparing the screened cohort with the eligible population. We used ?2 tests to assess differences in demographics and comorbidities between screened patients and the eligible group and differences between self-reported symptoms and EHR diagnoses among screened patients. Among 598 screened patients, the prevalence of self-reported symptoms was higher than that of associated EHR diagnoses in the year prior to the ED visit (anxiety, 45% vs 19% [P <.001]; depression, 40% vs 22% [P <.001]; drug use, 7% vs 4% [P = .011]; risky alcohol use, 12% vs 5% [P <.001]; chronic pain, 47% vs 30% [P <.001]; and sleep problems, 47% vs 4% [P <.001]). A dedicated RA was able to integrate screening into patient idle times in the ED visit. The prevalence of behavioral health problems was higher than indicated in the EHR.

Authors: Kene M; Miller Rosales C; Wood S; Rauchwerger AS; Vinson DR; Sterling SA

Am J Med. 2020 05;133(5):567-572. Epub 2020-02-04.

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