Objective: This study estimated trends in the duration of emergency department visits from 2001 to 2006 and compared duration by presenting complaint-mental health related or non-mental health related.
Methods: Data on visits (N=193,077) were from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey Emergency Department databases. Visits were classified as mental health visits if the primary reason for the visit was a common mental health symptom or disorder, a problem related to substance use, suicidal behaviors, or a need for counseling. Regression models were adjusted for year, diagnosis type, discharge status, payment source, demographic characteristics, receipt of medical care during the visit, mode of arrival, and immediacy of need for treatment.
Results: The duration of all emergency department visits increased at an annual rate of 2.3%. Trends were similar for mental health visits and non-mental health visits. Throughout the period the average duration of mental health visits exceeded the average duration of non-mental health visits by 42% (p<.001). This difference was related to the longer durations of mental health visits ending in transfer and visits by persons with serious mental illness or substance use disorders.
Conclusions: From 2001 to 2006, the duration of emergency department visits made by patients presenting with mental health complaints and visits made by all other patients increased at similar rates. However, the longer visits for certain groups of mental health patients suggest that emergency departments incur higher costs in connection with the delivery of services to persons in need of acute stabilization.