The effect of telemental versus in-person mental health consults in the emergency department on 30-day utilization and processes of care

Acad Emerg Med. 2023 Apr;30(4):262-269. doi: 10.1111/acem.14688. Epub 2023 Mar 13.


Objectives: We sought to characterize how telemental health (TMH) versus in-person mental health consults affected 30-day postevaluation utilization outcomes and processes of care in Veterans presenting to the emergency department (ED) and urgent care clinic (UCC) with acute psychiatric complaints.

Methods: This exploratory retrospective cohort study was conducted in an ED and UCC located in a single Veterans Affairs system. A mental health provider administered TMH via iPad. The primary outcome was a composite of return ED/UCC visits, rehospitalizations, or death within 30 days. The following processes of care were collected during the index visit: changes to home psychiatric medications, admission, involuntary psychiatric hold placement, parenteral benzodiazepine or antipsychotic medication use, and physical restraints or seclusion. Data were abstracted from the Veterans Affairs electronic health record and the Clinical Data Warehouse. Multivariable logistic regression was performed. Adjusted odds ratios (aORs) with their 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were reported.

Results: Of the 496 Veterans in this analysis, 346 (69.8%) received TMH, and 150 (30.2%) received an in-person mental health evaluation. There was no significant difference in the primary outcome of 30-day return ED/UCC, rehospitalization, or death (aOR 1.47, 95% CI 0.87-2.49) between the TMH and in-person groups. TMH was significantly associated with increased ED/UCC length of stay (aOR 1.46, 95% CI 1.03-2.06) and decreased use of involuntary psychiatric holds (aOR 0.42, 95% CI 0.23-0.75). There were no associations between TMH and the other processes-of-care outcomes.

Conclusions: TMH was not significantly associated with the 30-day composite outcome of return ED/UCC visits, rehospitalizations, and death compared with traditional in-person mental health evaluations. TMH was significantly associated with increased ED/UCC length of stay and decreased odds of placing an involuntary psychiatric hold. Future studies are required to confirm these findings and, if confirmed, explore the potential mechanisms for these associations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies