HealthDay News — According to a survey presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) in Las Vegas, NV, 1 in 5 emergency physicians polled that they have had psychiatric patients that need hospitalization who had to wait 2 to 5 days before being assigned to an inpatient bed.

Approximately 75% of emergency physicians said at least once a shift they see a patient who needs hospitalization for mental illness, according to the poll of more than 1700 emergency physicians. About half (48%) said that at least once a day, their emergency department ends up “boarding” a psychiatric patient who is awaiting admission to the hospital or transfer to another facility. 

Nearly 3 in 5 doctors (57%) also reported increased wait times and boarding for children with psychiatric illnesses. In addition, only 16.9% of doctors reported having a psychiatrist on call to respond to psychiatric emergencies in the emergency department. More than 11% said they have no one at all on call for mental health emergencies — no social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or other professionals.

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There were 2 studies that were highlighted at ACEP’s annual meeting that further explained the deteriorating network of support for patients with mental illness. Patients with bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression or a combination of 2 or more diagnosed psychiatric problems are at increased odds of being in the emergency department for more than 24 hours, according to 1 of the studies.

Another study provided more detail regarding the pressure that psychiatric patients are placing on hospitals and emergency departments: 21% of psychiatric patients require admission to the hospital, compared with 13.5% of medical patients; 23% of psychiatric patients wait in the emergency department more than 6 hours, versus 10% of medical patients; 7% of psychiatric patients stay in the emergency department for more than 12 hours, versus just over 2% of medical patients; and 11% of psychiatric patients end up transferred to another facility, compared with 1.4% of medical patients.


Waits for Care and Hospital Beds Growing Dramatically for Psychiatric Emergency Patients [press release]. Las Vegas, NV: American College of Emergency Physicians; October 17, 2016.

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