Introduction: Lethal means counseling of suicidal individuals in emergency departments has the potential to reduce suicide. This study examines the provision of lethal means counseling and the presence of written protocols in a region with high rates of both firearm ownership and suicide.
Methods: In 2015-2016, emergency department nurse managers in hospital-based emergency departments throughout eight states were surveyed using an 80-item survey developed through qualitative interviews and pilot testing. Questions focused on discharge counseling with suicidal patients and the presence of written protocols. Using survey weights to adjust for nonresponse, relationships of protocols with counseling practices were examined.
Results: Data were obtained from 52.3% of all 363 eligible hospital emergency departments in the region. Among facilities that discharge suicidal patients, 79.7% (95% CI=75.0%, 84.4%) reported asking about access to firearms and 68.9% (95% CI=62.9%, 74.8%) counsel about safe storage when patients reported access. Forty-four percent of emergency departments reported having written protocols for lethal means counseling. Presence of written protocols was associated with a higher rate of counseling for all suicidal patients even if they were not planning to use a gun (45.0% [95% CI=33.4%, 56.7%] in hospitals with protocols vs 21.5% [95% CI=14.9%, 29.0%] in facilities without protocols).
Conclusions: There are significant gaps in attention to lethal means counseling in emergency departments. This signals an opportunity to increase consistency and thoroughness of care for suicidal patients in the emergency department and for leadership from key professional organizations to advocate for protocols.
Copyright © 2017 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.