Evaluation of coercive measures in different psychiatric hospitals: the impact of institutional characteristics

BMC Psychiatry. 2021 Aug 21;21(1):419. doi: 10.1186/s12888-021-03410-z.


Background: Epidemiological studies have demonstrated considerable differences in the use of coercive measures among psychiatric hospitals; however, the underlying reasons for these differences are largely unclear. We investigated to what extent these differences could be explained by institutional factors.

Methods: Four psychiatric hospitals with identical responsibilities within the mental health care system, but with different inpatient care organizations, participated in this prospective observational study. We included all patients admitted over a period of 24 months who were affected by mechanical restraint, seclusion, or compulsory medication. In addition to the patterns of coercive measures, we investigated the effect of each hospital on the frequency of compulsory medication and the cumulative duration of mechanical restraint and seclusion, using multivariate binary logistic regression. To compare the two outcomes between hospitals, odds ratios (OR) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated.

Results: Altogether, coercive measures were applied in 1542 cases, corresponding to an overall prevalence of 8%. The frequency and patterns of the modalities of coercive measures were different between hospitals, and the differences could be at least partially related to institutional characteristics. For the two hospitals that had no permanently locked wards, certain findings were particularly noticeable. In one of these hospitals, the probability of receiving compulsory medication was significantly higher compared with the other institutions (OR 1.9, CI 1.1-3.0 for patients < 65 years; OR 8.0, CI 3.1-20.7 for patients ≥65 years); in the other hospital, in patients younger than 65 years, the cumulative duration of restraint and seclusion was significantly longer compared with the other institutions (OR 2.6, CI 1.7-3.9).

Conclusions: The findings are compatible with the hypothesis that more open settings are associated with a more extensive use of coercion. However, due to numerous influencing factors, these results should be interpreted with caution. In view of the relevance of this issue, further research is needed for a deeper understanding of the reasons underlying the differences among hospitals.

Keywords: Coercive measures; Organization of psychiatric inpatient care; Patient autonomy; Safety.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Coercion
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Patient Isolation
  • Restraint, Physical