Emergency medicine and psychiatry agreement on diagnosis and disposition of emergency department patients with behavioral emergencies

Acad Emerg Med. 2011 Apr;18(4):368-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2011.01024.x.


Objectives: The objective was to determine the level of agreement between emergency physicians (EPs) and consulting psychiatrists in their diagnosis and disposition of emergency department (ED) patients with behavioral emergencies.

Methods: The authors conducted a prospective study at a university teaching hospital ED with an annual census of approximately 45,000 patients. During study hours, each time a psychiatric consultation was requested, the emergency medicine (EM) and consulting psychiatry residents were asked to fill out similar short questionnaires concerning their diagnoses and disposition decisions after they consulted with their attending physicians. EM and psychiatry residents were blinded to the other's assessment of the patient. Residents were asked about their evaluation of patients regarding: 1) psychiatric assessments, 2) if the patients presented a danger to themselves or others or were gravely disabled, and 3) the need for emergency psychiatric hospitalization.

Results: A total of 408 resident physician pairs were enrolled in the study. Patients ranged in age from 5 to 92 years, with a median age of 31 years; 50% were female. The most common psychiatric assessments, as evaluated by either EPs, consulting psychiatrists, or both, were mood disorder (66%), suicidality (57%), drug/alcohol abuse (26%), and psychosis (25%). Seventy-three percent were admitted for acute psychiatric hospitalization. Agreement between EPs and psychiatrists was 67% for presence of mood disorder, 82% for suicidality, 82% for drug/alcohol abuse, 85% for psychosis, and 85% for grave disability. There was 67% agreement regarding patient eligibility for involuntary psychiatric hold. EPs felt confident enough to make disposition decisions 87% of the time; for these patients there was 76% agreement with consulting psychiatrists about the final disposition decision.

Conclusions: The 67% agreement between EPs and consulting psychiatrists regarding need for involuntary hold, and 76% agreement regarding final disposition, demonstrate a substantial disagreement between EPs and psychiatrists regarding management and disposition of ED patients with psychiatric complaints. Further studies with patient follow-up are needed to determine the accuracy of the ED assessments by both EPs and consulting psychiatrists.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Consensus
  • Emergency Medicine*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Services, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatry*
  • Young Adult