Biopsychosocial health care needs at the emergency room: challenge of complexity

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41775. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041775. Epub 2012 Aug 28.


Background: In an emergency room of internal medicine, triage and treatment of patients deserve first priority. However, biopsychosocial case complexity may also affect patient health outcome but has not yet been explored in this setting. Therefore, the aims of the study are (1) to estimate prevalence rates of complex patients in the emergency room (ER), (2) to describe biopsychosocial complexity in this population and (3) to evaluate possible correlations between patient profiles regarding case complexity and further clinical treatment.

Methods: During a study period of one week, all patients of an emergency room of internal medicine who were triaged to Manchester levels three to five were invited to participate in the study. Biopsychosocial case complexity was assessed by the INTERMED method. Psychosocial interventions were evaluated based on all documented interventions and recommendations given at the emergency room and during inpatient treatment.

Results: Study participants consisted of 167 patients with a subgroup of 19% (n = 32) receiving subsequent inpatient-treatment at the department. High biopsychosocial case complexity was found in 12% (n = 20) of the total sample (INTERMED score >20). This finding was paralleled by a cluster analysis suggesting three clusters with one highly complex patient group of 14%. These highly complex patients differed significantly from the other clusters as they had visited the emergency room more often within the last year and lived alone more frequently. In addition, admission rates were highest in this group. During ER treatment and subsequent inpatient treatment, 21% of highly complex patients received interventions addressing psychosocial factors as compared to 6% and 7%, respectively, in the other clusters.

Conclusions: A standardized screening of biopsychosocial case complexity among 'frequent utilizers' of the ER would be helpful to detect specific multidisciplinary health care needs among this particularly burdened patient group.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Emergency Medicine / methods
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing / methods
  • Psychology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triage / methods

Grants and funding

The authors have no support or funding to report.