Objective: The study examined changes in self-reported attitudes and practices related to suicide risk assessment among providers at emergency departments (EDs) during a three-phase quasi-experimental trial involving implementation of ED protocols for suicidal patients.
Methods: A total of 1,289 of 1,828 (71% response rate) eligible providers at eight EDs completed a voluntary, anonymous survey at baseline, after introduction of universal suicide screening, and after introduction of suicide prevention resources (nurses) and a secondary risk assessment tool (physicians).
Results: Among participants, the median age was 40 years old, 64% were female, and there were no demographic differences across study phases; 68% were nurses, and 32% were attending physicians. Between phase 1 and phase 3, increasing proportions of nurses reported screening for suicide (36% and 95%, respectively, p<.001) and increasing proportions of physicians reported further assessment of suicide risk (63% and 80%, respectively, p<.01). Although increasing proportions of providers said universal screening would result in more psychiatric consultations, decreasing proportions said it would slow down clinical care. Increasing proportions of nurses reported often or almost always asking suicidal patients about firearm access (18%-69%, depending on the case), although these numbers remained low relative to ideal practice. Between 35% and 87% of physicians asked about firearms, depending on the case, and these percentages did not change significantly over the study phases.
Conclusions: These findings support the feasibility of implementing universal screening for suicide in EDs, assuming adequate resources, but providers should be educated to ask suicidal patients about firearm access.