A screening tool to medically clear psychiatric patients in the emergency department

J Emerg Med. 2012 Nov;43(5):871-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2010.02.017. Epub 2010 Mar 29.


Background: Emergency physicians are frequently called on to medically clear patients presenting with a psychiatric complaint. There is limited guidance on how to conduct this clearance.

Objective: This study evaluated the usefulness of a screening tool in ruling out serious organic disease in emergency department (ED) patients with psychiatric complaints.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was performed on 500 consecutive adult ED patients with primarily psychiatric complaints who were evaluated using the tool, and then subsequently transferred to a psychiatric crisis center. The screening tool consists of a series of historical and physical examination criteria derived from the literature intended to identify patients who have a psychiatric manifestation of an organic disease. The physician filled out the screening form and if the proper conditions were met, the patient was transferred to Psychiatry without further laboratory or imaging studies. We reviewed the charts of both the ED visit and the psychiatric crisis center visit to determine if any of the patients required further medical treatment or a medical admission rather than a psychiatric admission.

Results: Five hundred consecutive ED patient charts were reviewed. Fifteen of the corresponding charts from the psychiatric center could not be found. Of the remaining 485 patients, 6 patients were sent back to the ED for further evaluation. After laboratory work and imaging, none of these 6 patients required more than an outpatient prescription.

Conclusion: The screening tool proved useful in determining if a psychiatric patient needed further medical evaluation beyond a history and physical examination before transfer for a psychiatric evaluation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine
  • Emergency Medicine / methods*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Emergency Services, Psychiatric / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Examination
  • Psychometrics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Triage / methods
  • Young Adult