New set of emergency department standards may help identify patients at high risk for suicide


It’s a common scenario in emergency departments (EDs): A person comes in complaining of a painful stomachache, a crushing migraine or another acute medical condition. While health care providers work to address the patient’s physical symptoms, further observation reveals that there’s more going on than meets the eye — the physical pains that brought the individual into the ED are actually signifiers of deeper psychological pains.

In the not-so-distant past, busy ED providers may have discharged patients like this after addressing their physical ailments: The psychological roots were someone else’s problem. But today, with more and more people turning to EDs for mental health care, and state rates of suicide up by 40.6 percent since 1999, Minnesota emergency medicine providers are acknowledging that change needs to happen.

This spring, members of MN Health Collaborative, a group of state health care organizations convened by the Bloomington-based Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI), announced a new set of shared standards designed to address suicide prevention and intervention in Minnesota’s EDs.

One key element of the recommendations is establishing a set of screening tools that emergency health care providers can use to determine if patients — even those who come in for seemingly unrelated issues — are at risk of suicide.

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