Background and objectives: Pediatric mental health emergency department (ED) visits are rising in the United States, with more visits involving medication for acute agitation. Timely, standardized implementation of behavioral strategies and medications may reduce the need for physical restraint. Our objective was to standardize agitation management in a pediatric ED and reduce time in physical restraints.
Methods: A multidisciplinary team conducted a quality improvement initiative from September 2020 to August 2021, followed by a 6-month maintenance period. A barrier assessment revealed that agitation triggers were inadequately recognized, few activities were offered during long ED visits, staff lacked confidence in verbal deescalation techniques, medication choices were inconsistent, and medications were slow to take effect. Sequential interventions included development of an agitation care pathway and order set, optimization of child life and psychiatry workflows, implementation of personalized deescalation plans, and adding droperidol to the formulary. Measures include standardization of medication choice for severe agitation and time in physical restraints.
Results: During the intervention and maintenance periods, there were 129 ED visits with medication given for severe agitation and 10 ED visits with physical restraint use. Among ED visits with medication given for severe agitation, standardized medication choice (olanzapine or droperidol) increased from 8% to 88%. Mean minutes in physical restraints decreased from 173 to 71.
Conclusions: Implementing an agitation care pathway standardized and improved care for a vulnerable and high-priority population. Future studies are needed to translate interventions to community ED settings and to evaluate optimal management strategies for pediatric acute agitation.
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