Prehospital Patient Care Protocols for Suicidality in Washington State

Prehosp Emerg Care. May-Jun 2021;25(3):432-437. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2020.1771489. Epub 2020 Jun 23.


Background: Patients with suicidal thoughts and behavior represent a growing proportion of patients who present for Emergency Department care. Many of these patients arrive via ambulance. Several brief suicide- or self-harm-specific interventions have been developed for implementation in the Emergency Department setting. However, there is a dearth of training resources, patient care guidelines, and policy guidance to assist prehospital care providers in the treatment of EMS patients who are suicidal. We evaluated prehospital patient care protocols in Washington State to assess for the presence-absence of any suicide and/or self-harm specific protocols, as well as the inclusion of procedures above and beyond conventional approaches to scene safety and transport to the Emergency Department.

Methods: Prehospital patient care protocols were obtained for all counties in Washington State. Researchers rated protocols across seven domains, including the mention of any suicide- or self-harm-specific procedures.

Results: Approximately one-third of counties had any suicide- or self-harm-specific content in prehospital patient care protocols. There was no association between county-level rurality-urbanicity and the presence-absence of suicide- or self-harm-specific care.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrated that little guidance exists for EMS providers in Washington State with regard to the screening or treatment of suicidal patients, above and beyond scene safety and transportation to hospital-based care. Development of guidelines for prehospital suicide care, as well as enhanced screening, assessment, and collaboration with on-call crisis resources has the potential to expand the scope of prehospital treatment for suicidal patients, and reduce burdens on patients, EMS providers, and Emergency Departments.

Keywords: patient care protocols; prehospital; suicide prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Patient Care
  • Suicide*
  • Washington