Emergency Department Visits by Patients with Mental Health Disorders — North Carolina, 2008–2010
|MMWR Weekly |
Volume 62, No. 23
June 14, 2013
Emergency Department Visits by Patients with Mental Health Disorders — North Carolina, 2008–2010
WeeklyJune 14, 2013 / 62(23);469-472
Patients with mental health disorders (MHDs) use the emergency department (ED) for acute psychiatric emergencies, for injuries and illnesses complicated by or related to their MHD, or when psychiatric or primary-care options are inaccessible or unavailable (1,2). An estimated 5% of ambulatory-care visits in the United States during 2007–2008 were made by patients with primary mental health diagnoses (3). To measure the incidence of ED visits in North Carolina with MHD diagnostic codes (MHD-DCs), the Carolina Center for Health Informatics (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) analyzed ED visits occurring during the period 2008–2010 captured by the North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT). This report describes the results of that analysis, which indicated that nearly 10% of ED visits had one or more MHD-DCs assigned to the visit and the rate of MHD-DC-related ED visits increased seven times as much as the overall rate of ED visits in North Carolina during the study period. Those with an MHD-DC were admitted to the hospital from the ED more than twice as often as those without MHD-DCs. Stress, anxiety, and depression were diagnosed in 61% of MHD-DC-related ED visits. The annual rate of MHD-DC-related ED visits for those aged ≥65 years was nearly twice the rate of those aged 25–64 years; half of those aged ≥65 years with MHD-DCs were admitted to the hospital from the ED. Mental health is an important component of public health (4). Surveillance is needed to describe trends in ED use for MHDs to develop strategies to prevent hospitalization, improve access to ambulatory care, and develop new ways to provide ED care for the elderly with MHDs.
ED visit data for the period 2008–2010 were extracted from NC DETECT, a population-based, statewide public health surveillance system that contains ED visit data (5,6) for 99% of ED visits in North Carolina occurring during the study period. ED visits were characterized by sex and age group, ED disposition, and type of MHD. MHD-DCs were identified from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) codes for mental disorders (290–299); symptoms, signs, and ill-defined conditions (787–789.9); and supplementary codes (V11–79). ICD-9-CM codes for poisoning and overdose, metabolic or structural encephalopathies that are classified as psychiatric diagnostic codes by ICD-9-CM, substance abuse disorders, and tobacco use disorder were excluded. For each ED visit, a mental health ICD-9-CM diagnostic code in any one of up to 11 positions classified that visit as MHD-DC-related. Visit records with more than one MHD-DC were counted as a single MHD-DC-related visit. Using the first-listed MHD-DC for the ED visit, MHDs were subcategorized into 11 groups of clinically similar diagnostic categories for calculating rates. For purposes of regression analyses, all MHD-DCs were classified as present or absent for each ED visit. Data were extracted and stratified for univariate and two-way descriptive analyses, and annual rates were calculated per 10,000 population. Risk ratios were computed using log binomial regression with Poisson robust variances.
From 2008 to 2010, the annual number of ED visits in North Carolina increased by 5.1%, from 4,190,911 to 4,405,676, and MHD-DC-related ED visits increased by 17.7%, from 347,806 to 409,276 (Table 1). By 2010, ED visits with MHD-DCs accounted for 9.3% of all ED visits; 31.1% of ED visits with MHC-DCs resulted in hospital admission, compared with 14.1% of all ED visits.
For each ED visit, up to 11 diagnostic codes are captured by NC DETECT. One quarter of first-listed MHD-DCs were in the first-listed diagnostic code position, 56% of the MHD-DCs were within the first three diagnostic code positions, and 77% were within the first five. "Stress/Anxiety/Depressive disorders" was the MHD-DC category with the highest number of ED visits (Table 2).
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). The highest admission proportion was for ED visits associated with dementia (60.5%) (Table 2). Population-based rates of MHD-DC related visits for those aged ≥65 years were very high for any MHD diagnosis compared with all other age groups, driven primarily by higher rates of schizophrenia/delusions/psychoses, dementia, and stress/anxiety/depression (Table 4).
Reported byAnne M. Hakenewerth, PhD, Texas Cancer Registry, Texas Dept of State Health Svcs. Judith E. Tintinalli, MD, Anna E. Waller, ScD, Amy Ising, MSIS, Tracy DeSelm, MD, Carolina Center for Health Informatics, Dept of Emergency Medicine, Univ of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Corresponding contributor: Anne M. Hakenewerth, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-305-8094.
Editorial NoteThe ED is an important link between outpatient and inpatient services for the care of patients with MHDs. ED visits by patients with MHD-DCs are increasing more rapidly than general ED visits (3,7). Only minor changes in ICD-9-CM codes have been issued since October 2000 (8), so coding procedures for MHD likely did not change greatly during the course of the study. In this study, population-based rates of MHD-DC-related ED visits in North Carolina increased progressively from 2008 to 2010, by 14.4%, whereas the rate of all ED visits increased by only 2.1%. The rate of MHD-DC-related ED visits by patients of all ages is increasing but is especially high for those aged ≥65 years, who have the highest MHD-DC-related ED visit rate of any age group and the highest risk ratio (2.2) for hospital admission. Patients with stress/anxiety/depression accounted for the majority (60.8%) of the MHD-DC related ED visits, an unanticipated finding because such disorders often are more appropriately treated in an office setting. Hospital admissions for ED visits with MHD-DCs decreased from 35.7% in 2008 to 31.1% in 2010. The reasons for this decrease are unclear.
Good mental health services require a system of care that includes EDs, hospitals, and ambulatory-care clinics that are adequately resourced. If the trends reported in this study continue to escalate, EDs, hospitals, and (most importantly) patients will be further burdened. The high numbers of ED visits and hospital admissions for patients with any type of MHD-DCs, for those aged ≥65 years (especially with dementia), and for those with low-acuity MHDs, indicate a need for system adjustment. Strategies are needed to counteract the effects of inpatient bed shortages and the increased volume of MHD-DC-related visits to EDs. Surveillance is the first step, because identifying trends in ED use by patients with MHDs can guide policies and procedures designed to reduce hospitalization, improve access to ambulatory care services, and develop new ways to care for the elderly with MHDs in the ED.
The findings in this report are subject to at least four limitations. First, ED visit data in NC DETECT are secondary data from hospital administrative and clinical data sources; diagnostic codes typically are extrapolated by hospital coders from the patient record. Second, the percentage of ED visits identified as having associated MHD-DCs probably is an underestimate; other coding studies have reported underestimation of medical disorders when relying solely on diagnostic codes. Third, some types of ED visits by patients with MHDs, such as visits attributed to involuntary commitment or those initiated by law enforcement, likely would not be prevented by better outpatient access. Finally, coder training and experience, clinician documentation, and billing practices affect diagnosis coding for all types of medical conditions (9). For this study, MHD-DCs were categorized into clinically coherent groups by clinicians on the study team. A study reviewing ED visits for MHDs in New South Wales, Australia, using a similar classification methodology, resulted in almost identical ICD-9-CM categorization and frequencies of disorders (10).
Additional information about NC DETECT and ED visit data for North Carolina is available at http://www.ncdetect.org.
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