Hospital Capabilities Associated With Behavioral Health Integration Within Emergency Departments

Med Care. 2024 Mar 1;62(3):170-174. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001973. Epub 2024 Jan 17.


Objectives: To identify hospital capabilities associated with behavioral health (BH) processes in emergency departments (EDs).

Research design: Six hundred two hospital responses to the 2017/2018 National Survey of Healthcare Organizations and Systems were linked to 2017 American Hospital Association Annual Survey data. Separate multivariable regressions estimated how hospital capabilities (the use of quality improvement methods, approaches to disseminate best patient-care practices, barriers to using care delivery innovations, and inpatient beds for psychiatric or substance use) were associated with each of 4 ED-based BH processes: mental health and substance use disorder screening, team-based approaches to BH, telepsychiatry, and direct referrals to community-based BH clinicians. Models controlled for hospital structural characteristics and area-level socioeconomic factors.

Results: Most hospitals screened for BH conditions and provided direct referrals to community-based BH clinicians. Approximately half of the hospitals used a team approach to BH. A minority had implemented telepsychiatry. Each additional process used to disseminate best patient-care practices was associated with more screening for BH conditions (an increase of 4.07 points on the screening index, P <0.01) and greater likelihood of using a team approach to BH [4.41 percentage point ( P <0.01) increase]. Hospitals reporting more barriers to the use of care delivery innovations reported less screening and use of a team approach [a decrease of 0.15 points on the screening index ( P <0.01) and 0.28 percentage points reduction in likelihood of team approach use ( P <0.001) for 1-point increase in the barrier index].

Conclusions: Research and interventions focused on removing innovation barriers or adding processes to disseminate best practices offer a path to accelerate BH integration in hospital EDs.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Psychiatry*
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Telemedicine*