Physician Documentation of Access to Firearms in Suicidal Patients in the Emergency Department

West J Emerg Med. 2019 Aug 20;20(5):818-821. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2019.7.42678.


Introduction: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 50% of these deaths are due to firearms. Suicidal ideation (SI) is a common complaint presenting to the emergency department (ED). Despite these facts, provider documentation on access to lethal means is lacking. Our primary aim was to quantify documentation of access to firearms in patients presenting to the ED with a chief complaint of SI.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of consecutive patients, nearly all of whom presented to an academic, urban ED with SI during July 2014. We collected data from all provider documentation in the electronic health record. Primary outcome assessed was whether the emergency physician (EP) team documented access to firearms. Secondary outcomes included demographic information, preexisting psychiatric diagnoses, and disposition.

Results: We reviewed 100 patient charts. The median age of patients was 38 years. The majority of patients had a psychiatric condition. EPs documented access to firearms in only 3% of patient charts.

Conclusion: EPs do not adequately document access to firearms in patients with SI. There is a clear need for educational initiatives regarding risk-factor assessment and counseling against lethal means in this patient cohort.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Counseling
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Documentation*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • United States
  • Young Adult