Care Transformation Center Blog

The behavioral health support your ED needs

by Kelsey Mahler

While the demand for behavioral health care is growing, many patients don’t know where to turn for treatment. Even more alarming is the fact that the number of psychiatric beds available has declined in recent years, meaning most of these patients will land in the ED.

Because the ED is not equipped to meet the unique needs of this patient population, patients’ treatment is often escalated—resulting in unnecessary inpatient admissions—or mishandled, exacerbating their condition.

Screen for behavioral health disorders when patients present in the ED

Munson Healthcare uses a 3-minute ED screening tool that enables any staff member—including administration, security, first responders, and clinical staff—to screen patients for behavioral health disorders and direct them to the most appropriate site of care. Using this screening tool, Munson streamlined care delivery, and increased safety in their ED.

Equip your ED with telepsychiatry capabilities

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health launched a telepsychiatry program providing virtual psychiatric assessments to patients presenting with behavioral health disorders in the ED. The virtual psychiatrists quickly assess these patients and make recommendations for admission or transfer to an outpatient site. Using this intervention, South Carolina hospitals decreased length of stay for these patients from 2-3 days to just 6 hours.

Embed case managers to redirect patients

Two organizations in California created the Triage, Transport, Treatment (T3) Program to reduce ED utilization among frequent users. Patients visiting Sutter Health’s ED more than four times in six months for non-urgent reasons are connected with a case manager who completes a biopsychosocial needs assessment and assists the patient in getting the care they need. The program also connects patients with support services, including housing and social resources.

If you invest in identifying problems early on, you can avoid unnecessary ED utilization altogether. Take a more proactive approach by considering primary care as your first opportunity to identify and address behavioral health needs.

Start proactively managing behavioral health

Check out our research briefing, Proactive Behavioral Health Management, to see how your peers are detecting behavioral health needs early.

You can also follow our step-by-step instructions to get a head start on your behavioral health strategic plan.