A Qualitative Study of Emergency Physicians' and Nurses' Experiences Caring for Patients With Psychiatric Conditions and/or Substance Use Disorders

Ann Emerg Med. 2023 Jun;81(6):715-727. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2022.10.014. Epub 2023 Jan 18.


Study objective: Patients with psychiatric conditions and/or substance use disorders (SUDs) frequently seek care in emergency departments (EDs), where providing care for these populations can involve considerable challenges. This study aimed to develop a comprehensive data-driven model of the complex challenges and unique dynamics associated with caring for these populations in the ED, as well as the effect on patient care quality.

Methods: We conducted a preplanned topical analysis of grounded theory data obtained from semistructured interviews with 86 ED physicians and nurses from 8 hospitals in the Northeastern USA. Participants provided detailed descriptions of their experiences and challenges in caring for patients with psychiatric conditions and/or SUDs. We identified themes inductively using constant comparative analysis and developed a grounded model of physicians' and nurses' perceptions of challenges, biases, and effects on patient care.

Results: Emergency physicians and nurses described emotional, diagnostic, and logistical challenges that patients with psychiatric conditions and/or SUDs present. These challenges are magnified by existing health care system issues and social structures, which fuel and reinforce negative attitudes, expectations, and biases. In combination, these processes create negative health care experiences for patients, physicians, and nurses and can adversely affect patient care quality and ED staff well-being.

Conclusion: Our findings uncover a cyclical process whereby challenges and biases associated with patients with psychiatric conditions and/or SUDs can reciprocally threaten patient care quality. Systemic changes and localized interventions are urgently needed to mitigate challenges, reduce bias, improve patient care, and improve physicians' and nurses' experiences in the ED.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Nurses*
  • Physicians* / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / therapy