Requirements for the implementation of open door policies in acute psychiatry from a mental health professionals’ and patients’ view: a qualitative interview study [2018]

Treating legally committed patients on open, instead of locked wards is controversially discussed and the affected stakeholders (patients, mental health professionals) have ambiguous views on the benefits and disadvantages. The study aims to assess the opinions and values of relevant stakeholders with regard to the requirements for implementing open wards in psychiatric hospitals.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 psychiatrists, 15 psychiatric nurses and 15 patients, and were analyzed using qualitative content analysis.

The interviewees identified conceptual, personnel and spatial requirements necessary for an open door policy. Observation and door watch concepts are judged to be essential for open wards, and patients appreciate the therapeutic value they hold. However, nurses find the door watch problematic. All groups suggest seclusion or small locked divisions as a possible way of handling agitated patients. All stakeholders agree that such concepts can only succeed if sufficient, qualified staff is available. They also agree that freedom of movement is a key element in the management of acutely ill patients, which can be achieved with an open door policy. Finally, the interviewees suggested removing the door from direct view to prevent absconding.

For psychiatric institutions seeking to implement (partially) open wards, the present results may have high practical relevance. The stakeholders’ suggestions also illustrate that fundamental clinical changes depend on resource investments which – at least at a certain point – might not be feasible for individual psychiatric institutions but presumably require initiatives on the level of mental health care providers or policy makers.

J. Kalagi, I. Otte, J. Vollmann, G. Juckel and J. Gather

BMC Psychiatry, 2018 18:304