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ECRI: Acute care patients with mental issues can be dangerous, tech tools can help

If a patient goes into the hospital for treatment, but also has mental health issues, more than half of the time they could hurt themselves or other patients, according to a new study from the ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organization (PSO).

And there is a small market of software tools hospitals and systems can use to be more prepared for such situations.


“Behavioral health issues have been one of our top 10 patient safety concerns for the past three years,” said William Marella, ECRI Institute Executive Director of PSO Operations and Analytics.

ECRI’s study, “Meeting Patients' Behavioral Health Needs in Acute Care,” looked at nearly 2,400 event reports of patients with behavioral health needs in non-psychiatric acute care settings and found less than half of the incidents were merely emotional or mental health manifestations — the rest were all violent episodes. In these episodes, the patients suffered temporary or minor harm in 81 incidents and major or permanent harm in three incidents. In one event, a patient died.

Hospitals aren’t equipped to meet the needs of patients with behavioral health needs and most times aren’t aware there is an issue until a crisis occurs, ECRI said.

The ECRI report aims to help hospitals be more prepared by improving training, environment, and coordination with the community.  


The market for software that merges physical and mental healthcare data is fairly scarce, but some vendors do offer it, including Cureatr, Ensocare, eQHealth Solutions, Imprivata, Netsmart, Oculus Health, pMD and Tribridge.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18 percent of adults have had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. Forty two percent of inpatient stays, primarily for a physical health condition, involve a co-occurring mental or substance abuse disorder, studies show.

ECRI said that failing to meet patients' behavioral health needs not only negatively affects patient safety, but it impacts quality of care, occupational health, patient and staff satisfaction, security and risk management, legal and regulatory compliance, public relations, and the organization's operations and finances.

Technology is essential to behavioral population health management and for integrating physical and mental healthcare, said Leanette Henagan, MD, chief integration officer at Partners in Recovery, a group that has replaced by 75 percent the time-consuming use of spreadsheets to track health, and has seen a 32 percent increase in educating members on physical care needs.

It is important to keep in mind that physical and behavioral care have long taken two sharply divergent paths, Henagan told Healthcare IT News last February. “We can't treat the head and the body unless we integrate and connect these disciplines,” she said.  

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