Reducing Frequent Utilization of Psychiatric Emergency Services Among Veterans While Maintaining Quality of Care – 2018-02

Use of psychiatric emergency services in emergency departments (EDs) and inpatient psychiatry units contributes substantially to the cost of mental health care. Among patients who utilize psychiatric emergency services, a small percentage (“high utilizers”) contributes a disproportionate share of the total cost, yet little is known about the context of care for these patients. This study employed qualitative methods to identify barriers to and facilitators of reducing use of psychiatric emergency services among high utilizers.

Semistructured phone interviews were conducted with 31 directors of mental health services and providers of psychiatric emergency services across 22 Veterans Health Administration medical centers. The Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research was used to guide the interviews to evaluate the context of care for high utilizers. Thematic coding was used to identify barriers to and facilitators of reducing utilization.

Barriers emerged at the patient level (for example, treatment nonadherence and transiency), provider level (for example, stigma toward high utilizers and lack of expertise and training in the management of psychiatric issues among ED staff), and system level (for example, lack of specialized services to address short- and long-term care needs). Facilitators included recovery-oriented care; interdisciplinary care coordination and case management, with emphasis on the role of psychiatric social workers; and predictive analytics to flag high utilizers.

The findings lay the groundwork for the design of novel approaches to care for high utilizers of psychiatric emergency services while limiting provider burnout, managing costs, and optimizing treatment outcomes.

Daniel M. Blonigen, Ph.D., Luisa Manfredi, J.D., M.P.H., Adrienne Heinz, Ph.D., Xiaoyu Bi, Ph.D., Paola Suarez, M.P.H., Andrea L. Nevedal, Ph.D., Anita A. Vashi, M.D., M.P.H., Christine Timko, Ph.D., Todd Wagner, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services, February 01, 2018