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Open Access Research article

Failure of psychiatric referrals from the pediatric emergency department

Jacqueline Grupp-Phelan1*, Sergio V Delgado2 and Kelly J Kelleher3

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Emergency Medicine, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Ohio, USA

2 Division of Child Psychiatry, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Ohio, USA

3 Columbus Children's Research Institute, Columbus Children's Hospital, Columbus Ohio, USA

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BMC Emergency Medicine 2007, 7:12  doi:10.1186/1471-227X-7-12

Published: 15 August 2007

Abstract

Background

Recognition of mental illness in the pediatric emergency department (PED) followed by brief, problem oriented interventions may improve health-care seeking behavior and quality of life. The objective of this study was to compare the frequency of mental health follow up after an enhanced referral compared to a simple referral in children presenting to the PED with unrecognized mental health problems.

Methods

A prospective randomized control trial comparing an enhanced referral vs. simple referral in 56 families of children who were screened for mental health symptoms was performed in a large tertiary care PED. Children presenting to the PED with stable medical problems were approached every fourth evening for enrollment. After consent/assent was obtained, children were screened for a mental health problem using both child and parent reports of the DISC Predictive Scales. Those meeting cutoffs for a mental health problem by either parent or child report were randomized to 1) simple referral (phone number for mental health evaluation by study psychiatrist) or 2) enhanced referral (short informational interview, appointment made for child, reminder 2 days before and day of interview for an evaluation by study psychiatrist). Data analysis included descriptive statistics and Chi-Square test to calculate the proportion of children with mental health problems who completed mental health follow-up with and without the enhanced referral.

Results

A total of 69 families were enrolled. Overall 56 (81%) children screened positive for a mental health problem as reported by either the child (self report) or mother (maternal report of child mental health problem). Of these, 33 children were randomized into the enhanced referral arm and 23 into the simple referral arm. Overall, only 6 families with children screening positive for a mental health problem completed the psychiatric follow up evaluation, 2 in the enhanced referral arm and 4 in the simple referral arm (p = .13).

Conclusion

Children screened in the ED for unrecognized mental health problems are very unlikely to follow-up for a mental health evaluation with or without an enhanced referral. Understanding the role of ED based mental health screening and the timing of an intervention is key in developing ED based mental health interventions.