Patients With Mental Illness Do Not Receive Slower Care in ER

Patients wait less time under crowded conditions; slightly longer under non-crowded conditions

TUESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with mental illness wait less time than other patients in Ontario's emergency departments during crowded conditions, and only slightly longer than other patients under non-crowded conditions, suggesting appropriate triage, according to research published online Nov. 12 in CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

Clare L. Atzema, M.D., from the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and colleagues retrospectively analyzed data from adults seen in Ontario emergency departments from April 2007 to March 2009. Wait times and triage scores for 51,381 patients with mental illness were compared to all other patients.

The researchers found that, regardless of crowding, patients with mental illness received higher priority triage scores than other patients. For patients with mental illness, the time to assessment by a physician was significantly longer than for other patients (median 82 minutes versus median 75 minutes; P < 0.001), but from the decision to admit the patient to hospital to ward transfer, the median time was considerably shorter for patients with mental illness (median 74 minutes versus median 152 minutes; P < 0.001). During non-crowded periods, patients with mental illness waited 10 minutes longer to see a physician compared with other patients, even after adjustment for other variables. As crowding increased, they waited significantly less time than other patients (mild crowding, −14 minutes; moderate crowding, −38 minutes; severe crowding, −48 minutes).

"Patients with mental illness were triaged appropriately in Ontario's emergency departments," the authors write.

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