Background: Deliberate self-harm (DSH) is a significant public health problem, representing a major burden in terms of morbidity to the individual and health-service utilization. While clinical guidelines suggest good practice for the short-term hospital management of DSH, there remains considerable variability in the way that services are provided.
Method: A systematic review of the literature was undertaken to examine the current evidence on hospital resource use and costs involved in the short-term hospital management of adults following DSH and to elucidate the factors that influence these differences, in terms of clinical characteristics and service provision.
Results: Twenty-one papers reporting on 17 studies met the inclusion criteria for review. Clinical characteristics associated with an increase in resource use included overdose with tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) compared with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (weighted ratio 2.6:1) and co-ingestion of alcohol with SSRIs. Variations in service provision, including medical admissions policy and provision of a specialist liaison service, affected resource utilization independently of the clinical needs of patients.
Conclusions: Overdoses of TCAs incur substantially greater hospital costs than overdoses of SSRIs. Variations in the medical seriousness of DSH, and in the structure of service provision, affect the resources used in its short-term hospital management, with little evidence about the impact these differences have on clinical outcome. Research is needed to evaluate the impact of different styles of service provision on outcome, and to incorporate these factors into the trial design of future cost-effectiveness studies of interventions following DSH.