Monitoring suicidal patients in primary care using electronic health records

J Am Board Fam Med. 2015 Jan-Feb;28(1):65-71. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2015.01.140181.


Introduction: Patients at risk for suicide often come into contact with primary care providers, many of whom use electronic health records (EHRs) for charting. It is not known, however, how often suicide ideation or attempts are documented in EHRs.

Methods: We used retrospective analyses of de-identified EHR data from a distributed health network of primary care organizations to estimate the frequency of using diagnostic codes to record suicidal ideation and attempts. Data came from 3 sources: a clinician notes field processed using natural language processing; a suicidal ideation item on a patient-reported depression severity instrument (9-item Patient Health Questionnaire [PHQ-9]); and diagnostic codes from the EHR.

Results: Only 3% of patients with an indication of suicidal ideation in the notes field had a corresponding International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9), code (κ = 0.036). Agreement between an indication of suicidal ideation from item 9 of the PHQ-9 and an ICD-9 code was slightly higher (κ = 0.068). Suicide attempt indicated in the notes field was more likely to be recorded using an ICD-9 code (19%; κ = 0.18).

Conclusions: Few cases of suicidal ideation and attempt were documented in patients' EHRs using diagnostic codes. Increased documentation of suicidal ideation and behaviors in patients' EHRs may improve their monitoring in the health care system.

Keywords: Attempted; Electronic Health Records; Natural Language Processing; Suicidal Ideation; Suicide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Electronic Health Records / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Young Adult