Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physicians' Current Practices and Beliefs Regarding Mental Health Screening

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Background:Only 20% of children with mental health issues are identified and receiving appropriate treatment nationally. The emergency department (ED) may represent a significant opportunity to provide selective pediatric mental health screening to an at-risk population.Objective:To describe the current standard of care and perceived limitations among pediatric emergency medicine (PEM) physicians regarding mental health screening.Methods:A 23-question survey on screening practices for pediatric mental illness (PMI) was sent to PEM physician participants identified through the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Emergency Medicine mailing list.Results:Of the 576 physicians meeting our inclusion criteria, 384 (67%) surveys were returned. Eighty-six percent of respondents indicated screening for PMI in 10% or less of their eligible patients. Overall, 43% of respondents indicated screening only if the chief complaint was psychiatric in nature. The remaining 217 physicians most commonly screened for depression (83%), suicidality (76%), and substance abuse (67%). Only 9% of physicians stated that they used evidence-based medicine in determining their screening practices. Women physicians (odds ratio, 1.94; 95% confident interval, 1.08-3.47) and those using evidence-based medicine (odds ratio, 3.88; 95% confidence interval, 1.92-7.85) were more likely to conduct screening. Significant limitations to screening identified by respondents include the following: time limitations (93%), absence of a validated screening tool (62%), limited resources (46%), and lack of training (44%). Eighty-eight percent of physicians believe that a validated and standardized screening tool would improve their ability to identify PMI.Conclusions:Routine PMI screening is conducted infrequently by most PEM physicians. Improved physician education/training and the development of a validated ED-specific mental health screening tool would assist PEM physicians in the early detection of PMI.

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